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Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Snohomish stand in hope of recognition
By Alex Fryer
There is Snohomish County and the Snohomish River, and within days, there could be a federally recognized Snohomish Tribe.
Twenty-eight years after a group of Native Americans scattered about the county that bears its name filed paperwork with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to become a sovereign tribe, federal anthropologists and genealogists say they expect to make a final ruling by Monday. With recognition comes federal grants for education and health care. It bestows cultural pride and a sense of empowerment. And only recognized tribes have the opportunity to open Las Vegas-style casinos, which can bring in millions of dollars in revenue.
But recognition is a long, often divisive process that can pit landless Indians against those who moved onto reservations generations ago. Such Indian groups as the Duwamish in Seattle and the Chinook of Southwest Washington, for example, have tried in vain to win recognition.
In this case, the Tulalip Tribes of Marysville has opposed the Snohomish petition pending in Washington, D.C., and hired its own anthropologist and genealogist to refute the Snohomish claims. Tulalip Vice Chairman Stanley Jones calls the Snohomish an "off-reservation claims group" not worthy of recognition.
Two months ago, an anthropologist and genealogist from the Office of Federal Acknowledgment (formally known as the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research) traveled to the Snohomish Tribe's Edmonds office.
The researchers checked family histories presented by the tribe that traced the 1,711 enrolled members to full-blooded Snohomish Indians. They recorded interviews with members to determine if the group had existed as an independent cultural and political entity through the decades.
Their questions included: How many Indian children did you play with growing up? How many Indians did you work with, and what were their names? What games did you play, and which elders did you respect?
"They were trying to tie the Snohomish to the Indian heritage and Indian community whether we existed today as a community," said Chairman Bill Matheson, 76, who has been a member of the Snohomish Tribal Council for 44 years.
The researchers packed their equipment and left after a few days. And the tribe resumed waiting for an answer it has sought since it wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1975.
The first written record of the Snohomish is found in a 1792 log entry by Capt. George Vancouver. More than 50 years later, in 1843, a missionary wrote "their lands are covered almost entirely by forests, and cedars are especially magnificent."
Leaders of the Snohomish Nation signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, which established a reservation for their tribe, and a separate reservation of members of several local tribes.
But the Snohomish never got their reservation, and the government created a single General Reservation, which later was renamed Tulalip Tribes. Many Snohomish families never moved to the General Reservation, where the land was swampy and no good for farming.
Jack Kidder, 79, is the great-great-great-grandson of one of the signatories to the Treaty of Point Elliott, Sna-talc, nicknamed "Bonaparte" by the Hudson Bay Company traders who plied the area at the time.
Kidder's distant relatives had an allotment on the Tulalip Tribes reservation, and some of his kin moved there. But Kidder never did. "There just wasn't anything for me there," he said.
Kidder helped draft the paperwork for federal recognition filed almost 30 years ago. The quest became more urgent in 1979 when members lost their fishing rights after a federal judge determined the tribe was not descended from the aboriginal people.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs turned down the federal recognition petition in 1983, and the tribe submitted a new package in 1999.
The Snohomish hired anthropologists with the help of an annual $65,000 federal grant, which helped pay for an office, telephone and secretary.
Membership dues paid for stamps and once replaced the tires of the chairman, who drove across the state representing the tribe at meetings and powwows.
Genealogists used probate files, which are kept by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to track descendants through the generations. The tribe has no blood quorum, meaning that anyone with a drop of Snohomish could be enrolled as a member.
The tribe shipped eight file boxes with photographs, testimony and documents to federal researchers and Indian-affairs officials.
And the Tulalip Tribes submitted an equally voluminous counter-petition on behalf of its 3,200 enrolled members.
"The Tulalip Tribes are the Snohomish," according to Jones.
Unlike those who stayed away, life was full of hardships for Indians who moved to the reservation, Jones said. The land was terrible, and children had their hair cut and mouths washed with soap if they spoke their native language at school.
Federal recognition with all its benefits was the government's payback for decades of misery, he said. "We suffered the hardships, like no elk on the reservation. And then you had people who stayed off."
"They never kept together as a community," he charged. "They never had a tribal government, if they ever had meetings. They never had a longhouse or ceremonies."
The Snohomish say the Tulalip Tribes fears losing fishing grounds, and recognition would make the federal pie for Indian benefits a bit smaller for everybody.
And while no one says it, federal recognition could eventually bring competition to the Tulalip Tribes' 227,000-square-foot casino.
Seventeen of the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington have opened gaming operations.
"I think my phone is going to ring after recognition and it'll be one of those big (casino) developers," said Matheson, the Snohomish chairman. "And we'll say we're probably not interested, at least not right away."
He added: "I'm 76 years old. I won't get anything out of this. Except a little satisfaction."
Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or email@example.com
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