Snohomish Tribe’s road to recognition faces uphill battle

For generations, American Indian descendents of the Snohomish Tribe have been given one option if they want to benefit from their Indian ancestry: enroll in the Tulalip Tribes.

While many have enrolled with the Tulalips, more than 1,000 Snohomish Indians have enrolled with their own tribe. Still, the federal government says their tribe doesn’t exist.

About four years ago, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied a claim more than two decades in the making by the Snohomish Tribe for federal recognition. The BIA ruled that the tribe hasn’t existed continually since historic times, and that Snohomish tribal leaders haven’t held consistent political sway over their members.

Last month, the 1,200-member tribe tried again. The tribe filed a federal lawsuit that challenges the BIA’s assertions.

The tribe expects the Tulalip Tribes to fight their effort, Snohomish Tribe Chairman Michael Evans said. But as word gets out of the Snohomish lawsuit, it’s likely that more Indians will join in their fight, he said.

“If somebody was enrolled as Tulalip, and if the Snohomish are recognized, there may be some people who come over,” Evans said. “They’ll come out of the woodwork because there may be potential for new benefits.”

The tribe hasn’t claimed it has a right to any land, but the tribe historically lived in northern Snohomish County, from north Everett, up into the Marysville-Tulalip area, and elsewhere. Historic accounts state that land now claimed by the Tulalip Tribes was under the sphere of Snohomish influence at the time that European settlers first arrived here.

The process will be long, and the odds are slim. Only about 8 percent of the country’s 562 tribes have been recognized since 1960. Most tribes who seek recognition are denied.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

Gaining federal recognition

In order to gain federal recognition, an American Indian tribe must prove the following:

n The tribe has been identified as such continuously since 1900.

n Most of the tribe has existed as a distinct community since historic times.

n Tribal leaders have held political influence and authority over members continuously since historic times.

n The tribe has documents detailing membership criteria.

n Tribal members descend from a historic Indian tribe that functioned as a political entity.

n Most tribal members are not enrolled in any other tribe.

n The federal government has not terminated or forbidden the tribes’ recognition.

Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs

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