The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Northwest Regional Office (NWRO), is developing a proposed plan that provides for the distribution and use of judgment funds to the lineal descendants of individuals from the historic Clatsop Tribe of Indians and the Lower Band of Chinook Indians of Washington awarded by the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) in ICC Docket 234.
On November 4, 1970, the ICC in Docket 234 awarded $48,692.05 to the Lower Band of Chinook and Clatsop Indians as additional compensation for lands taken in August 1851. Prior to the proceeding on the merits and the November 4, 1970 decision in Docket 234, the ICC, on April 16, 1958, concluded that the “petitioner organization,” the Chinook Tribe and Band of Indians, had the capacity to prosecute the action for and on behalf of the Lower Band of Chinook Indians and Clatsop Indians. The ICC did not, however, recognize the Chinook Tribe and Band of Indians for any other purposes.
Funds to satisfy the 1970 award (Judgment Funds) were appropriated to the Department of the Interior by the Act of October 31, 1972, 86 Stat. 1498. Pursuant to the Indian Tribal Judgment Funds Use or Distribution Act, 25 U.S.C. 1401, (Judgment Act) the Judgment Funds were deposited into a trust account established for the benefit of the successors in interest to Lower Band of Chinook and Clatsop Indians until such time the Judgment Funds are disbursed in accordance with the Judgment Act. The Department has at least preliminarily determined that successors in interest and beneficiaries of the Judgment Funds are exclusively the lineal descendants of those individual members of the historic Lower Band of Chinook and Clatsop Indians cited on the Annuity Roll dated July 29, 1914.
In accordance with the Judgment plan the Bureau is tasked with developing a plan to distribute the funds. On June 8, 1974, the BIA held a Hearing of Record (Hearing) in Skamokawa, Washington to receive input on how the funds from the ICC Docket 234 (Judgment Funds) should be used or distributed. The BIA Hearings Officer estimated that in 1974, there were between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals who could potentially claim eligibility for a per capita distribution. If the award were to have been distributed on a per capita basis in 1970, the estimated distribution would likely have been less than ten dollars per recipient. Due to the small amount of funding and potentially large number of prospective per capita recipients, the result of the Hearing was that the funds be used to establish an educational scholarship fund. Thus, the Acting Superintendent, Western Washington Agency (now Puget Sound Agency) recommended to the Acting Director, Portland Area Office (now Northwest Regional Office) the Judgment Funds be used for an educational scholarship fund. The Acting Director, Portland Area Office, concurred and forwarded the recommendation to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (Commissioner).
The distribution has not yet occurred because of a statutory requirement that limits per capita distributions to 80% of a particular judgment (even at 100% the amount would have been insignificant); the inherent difficulty in determining all the rightful beneficiaries (the 1970 estimate was 5,000 to 6,000); and the lack of federal-recognition status for the Lower Band of Chinooks and the Clatsop Indians.
During this fifty-plus year period, a group claiming status as the successors in interest to the Lower Chinooks and Clatsops embarked on an unsuccessful attempt at federal recognition. With the recognition issue having been decided, pending litigation of the decision, and there still being no federally recognized Lower Chinook or Clatsop tribe, BIA is now focusing its attention back to the mandate of the Judgement Funds Order; that the funds benefit the successors in interest to the Lower Band of Chinook and Clatsop Indians.
In March 2021 the BIA resumed its work to develop a plan for the use and distribution of the Judgment Funds. As the Hearing of Record was conducted over fifty years ago, the Bureau is again reaching out to gather input from individuals and tribal groups with lineal descendancy connections to the 1914 Roll.
On July 22, 2021, the Bureau distributed letters to the 45 federally recognized tribes in the Northwest Region of the United States as well as the non-recognized tribal entity claiming Lower Chinook and Clatsop ancestry. Three tribes or tribal entities responded to the letters: the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (CTGR), Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon (CTSI); and the non-federally recognized Chinook Indian Nation (CIN).
On December 2, 2021 the Bureau held a Virtual Public Hearing to present a summary of the draft plan and receive public comment. Links to a transcript of the Hearing and a ‘Dear Tribal Leader’ letter distributed as a result of the Hearing are available at www.bia.gov/chinook.