Snohomish Tribe sues to overturn denial of U.S. recognition

The Snohomish Tribe of Indians filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to overturn a 2004 decision that denied it federal recognition.

The suit states that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the tribe due process of law by applying the wrong legal standards when it considered and denied the tribe federal recognition.

“There are certain standards you have to meet to get recognition, and our point is that we met that standard but the government didn’t apply the facts,” said John Devlin, the tribe’s Seattle-based attorney.

The Tulalip Tribes have long opposed the Snohomish Tribe’s appeal for recognition, arguing that the Snohomish people were among those tribes that originally settled on the Tulalip reservation.

To gain federal recognition, the BIA requires that tribes prove that they’ve existed continuously as a distinct community, with political authority over its members, despite the federal government’s historic initiatives that tribal members submit instead to nontribal governments.

In the suit, the Snohomish Tribe argues that it was a primary signer of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, the agreement that turned over much of Western Washington’s land to the federal government in exchange for medical care, reserved land and other benefits.

The tribe also argues that poor living conditions on the Tulalip Indian Reservation kept many Snohomish Indians from living there, one factor that led the BIA to reject the tribe’s 2004 appeal for recognition.

The tribe argues that it has existed in an organized fashion continuously since long before the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed, but that it suffers now because it doesn’t have access to federal assistance or rights including fishing and hunting.

It could be a year or more before the tribe gets to argue its case in court, Devlin said.

Only about 8 percent of the nation’s 562 recognized tribes have gained recognition since 1960, according to the BIA. Hundreds of groups are currently seeking recognition.

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