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Tuesday, December 02, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
U.S. won't recognize the Snohomish as tribe
By Alex Fryer
WASHINGTON After waiting more than 28 years for federal recognition, the Snohomish Tribe finally heard from the government yesterday: Their petition was denied.
"Everybody thought we'd be recognized," said Snohomish Chairman Bill Matheson. "It's a real, real disappointment."
The federal government requires Indian groups to meet seven criteria for recognition, which when bestowed brings dollars for health care and education, as well as the ability to open money-making casinos. More important, however, federal recognition bestows a sense of empowerment and cultural pride.
The government's criteria include functioning as a distinct community and maintaining a political structure since historical times.
It was not clear yesterday which criteria the Snohomish failed to meet.
Ten petitions have been withdrawn, and Congress passed legislation recognizing nine tribes.
There are 193 petitions pending, but most are single-page letters indicating the tribe will seek recognition in the future.
To present its case to the government, the Snohomish secured the assistance of several prominent Native American experts, including Jack Campisi, director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center Project in Connecticut.
Once thought nearly extinct, the Mashantucket Pequot now operate the world's richest casino.
The Snohomish Tribe also received assistance from William Sturtevant, an anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He authored several books, including "The Handbook of Native American Indians."
The researchers checked family histories that traced the 1,711 enrolled members to full-blooded Snohomish Indians. They recorded interviews with members to determine whether the group had existed as an independent cultural and political entity through the decades. The first written record of the Snohomish is found in a 1792 log entry by Capt. George Vancouver.
The Tulalip Tribes of Marysville opposed the Snohomish petition and hired anthropologists and genealogists of their own. The Tulalip Tribes contended the Snohomish did not exist as an independent government, and many Snohomish people settled on the Tulalip Reservation decades ago.
Tulalip Vice Chairman Stanley Jones called the Snohomish an "off-reservation claims group" not worthy of recognition.
The Snohomish say the Tulalip Tribes feared 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 eventually could have brought competition to the Tulalip Tribes' 227,000-square-foot casino.
Matheson, the Snohomish chairman, said his group has received free legal aide from Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, a Minneapolis-based law firm, and the firm has committed to helping the Snohomish file a lawsuit in federal court to overturn yesterday's ruling.
Indian-law experts predict the cost of such legal work could reach $750,000.
The Samish Indian Nation in Washington state successfully sued in 1995 to win recognition after the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected its petition in 1987.
The legal road is a long one for the Snohomish, said Matheson, who could not hide his bitterness and disappointment.
"We put so much effort into the petition and got the right people to help us, but (the Interior Department) just slashed us down," he said of the decision in Washington, D.C. "I just don't know what in the world is going on back there."
Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or email@example.com
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