Cowlitz Country News - Cowlitz Tribe News Archive - Malicious Racist Attack
  On-line since 2011 - Posted January 12, 2013; Updated February 19, 2013
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Malicious Racist Attack on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe
by Rod Van Mechelen
Correction: In the original version I incorrectly reported that Gracie Wannassay was Thom Hill's mother and that she had been involved in the theft of the records. Jacqueline (Jackie) Wannassay Hill was Thom's mother and Tribal Secretary from 1953 until 1964. The records represented in the broadcast as being handed down from Jackie to Thom were from several years after she was tribal secretary, leading to speculation that she (Jackie) may have been "in cahoots" with the man who stole the records. Updated February 19, 2013

KATU News Report
Thursday, January 3, 2013, KATU in Portland, Ore, published an online report questioning the legitimacy of the enrollment of certain members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe:

KATU News has learned some tribal members are challenging their own leaders’ right to run the project. Cowlitz Tribe member Steve Myers and his cousin, Thomas Hill, showed On Your Side Investigator Dan Tilkin internal tribal documents that raise new questions about whether some leaders of the Cowlitz tribal council even belong in the tribe. - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin, KATU On Your Side Investigator Published: Jan 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM PST Last Updated: Jan 3, 2013 at 10:25 PM PST
This is a malicious attack using out of date records that were based on incomplete genealogical data to raise racist questions about the legitimacy of our tribal leadership due to their blood quantum:
It’s through Hill’s mother that the cousins came into possession of documents that cast doubt on the degree of tribal ancestry of three of the top eight administrators of the tribe. In other words, there are questions about how much Cowlitz blood they actually have. That standard – called a blood quantum – helped the federal government decide who qualified as a real Cowlitz member when the tribe was granted recognition in 2000. The standard was a minimum 1/16th Cowlitz blood. - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin, KATU On Your Side Investigator Published: Jan 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM PST Last Updated: Jan 3, 2013 at 10:25 PM PST
The Blood Quantum Issue
Blood quantum was never part of Native American tradition but was imposed by the federal government in the 1800s as a means to eliminate tribes through inter-marriage. Blood quantum is a criteria for enrollment in some tribes, as required by treaty with the federal government. But the Cowlitz are a "lineal descent" tribe.

Families Key to Federal Recognition
Ironically, some of the families whose membership in the Cowlitz Indian Tribe is questioned because their blood quantum is too low or "not Cowlitz" were instrumental in the federal recognition of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

Personally, my American Indian "blood quantum" from all sources is 9/64ths. My ancestors were Chehalis, Tlingit, Canadian Métis and (aren't we all?) Cherokee. As everybody in the neighborhood knows, the Chehalis, Cowlitz, Nisqually and Puyallup are neighbors and kin. All four tribes are closely related.

History is sometimes comedy, and in an ironic twist of fate my family is enrolled Cowlitz because of our Tlingit ancestress and her Canadian Métis husband. Their son, David Provoe, was 3/4 blood Native blood quantum because unlike American Métis, Canadian Métis were and are of actual native descent. He married Mary Kindred who was 1/2 Chehalis. (Her father was John Kindred, who travelled here with the Michael T. Simmons party.) David was Cowlitz (long story) and Mary was Chehalis.

It was thanks to my great-great grandmother, Mary Kindred Provoe, that our family was listed in a federal lawsuit 80-odd years ago as members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. This fact provided part of the proof that was used to gain federal recognition for the Cowlitz. Without our family, the Cowlitz would not be federally recognized today.

The Russell family, named in the vicious KATU broadcast, played an even more important and active role in our fight for federal recognition. When the enrollment records, including the ones shown in this broadcast, were stolen in 1992 by a man who may have been in cahoots with Thom Hill's mother, Jackie Wannassay, long after she was tribal secretary, it was Carolee Morris who picked up the pieces and cobbled everything back together. This was in the days of Windows 3.0 before Google or even Yahoo existed, and few households were connected to the Internet. Without Carolee's efforts, we would not be federally recognized today. She is a key figure in the history of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and any member who attacks her should be deeply ashamed.

Her sister Nancy Osborne, also named in the report, has worked hard for the Tribe and has put up with a lot of nasty attacks by people who, while they participate in and lead a lot of fun cultural activities that exclude the majority of our members, who live too far away to participate, do little real work for the Tribe but wrap themselves in a patchwork blanket of culture that includes ample swatches of culture from the southwest and prairie tribes. They complain, criticize and demand more and more support and money for their activities from the few people who do most of the drudge work for the Tribe.

Their brother, our enrollment officer Randy Russell, has asked for nothing but to serve the Tribe, and for his efforts he is attacked by a racist newscaster using people who do absolutely nothing for the Tribe to further his own career at our tribe's expense.

A Matter of Inheritance
Regarding blood being connected to financial benefits, do those who have a problem with that when it's about American Indians also have a problem with it when it's about inheritance, such as the children of Bill Gates, who will inherit great wealth? Do those who have a problem with it propose to eliminate all inheritance...which, after all, is in most cases based on blood?

To be a member of an Indian tribe is to be a member of an extended family, and it is about both heritage and inheritance. The heritage is about culture and a historical connection to a people and a place. Inheritance is about the legal relationships that go with that. Through their respective tribes, American Indians have an inherited relationship with the federal government. To question and oppose that is to question and oppose inheritance for all Americans.

But you won't hear the racists talk about that. It is racist for KATU to make an issue of it, and for Hill and Meyers to demand that we return to the old federal government way of determining tribal membership, by slicing and dicing our blood by race.

The attack continues
The original KATU rpeort was followed a week later by a second:

A week after KATU News aired a report about ongoing disputes within the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which is right now working to build a mega-casino on Portland’s doorstep, the tribal chairman is now answering accusations that some of the tribe’s top administrators shouldn’t even be members. - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin and Kelly Hatmaker, KATU News Published: Jan 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST
In his written response, Chairman Bill Iyall repeated what he originally tried to tell KATU's On Your Side Investigator Dan Tilkin:
The newscast displayed incorrect, out of date, and incomplete enrollment records that were in fact stolen documents. The newscast referenced a new lawsuit on these issues. - Recent Newscast Attack on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, William Iyall Chairman, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, January 9, 2013
KATU implied that Chairman Iyall was finally responding only after being dragged out into the open. But he told them these things right up front, and while the first report showed Tilkin on the phone apparently being rebuffed, the people who were in the room on the other end of that call described it very differently. Moreover, the lawsuit mentioned in the original broadcast was dismissed before the KATU report even aired, and Tilkin knew that.

The Credibility of This Response
KATU and others may question the credibility of my comments, here. They may try to dismiss me as a puppet of the Cowlitz leaders. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Every community has political factions and tribes are no exception. After they were herded onto reservations following the apocalyptic epidemics caused by the European diseases that wiped out between 90 percent and 98 percent of the indigenous population, to survive and protect the tattered remnants of their cultures and communities most tribes had to adopt a state of mind that fosters dependency and encourages politically progressive programs that destroy initiative, encourage debilitating lifestyles and drive off the most intelligent, talented, creative and productive members.

Leaders are emerging in Indian Country who know this and are changing that to turn tribes into engines of prosperity so they have the money to buy back some of their lands and restore some of their authentic tribal cultures. We are fortunate to have several such leaders among the Pacific Coast tribes. Two shining examples are Mel Sheldon, of the Tulalip, and W. Ron Allen, of the Jamestown S'Klallam. Under their leadership, their respective tribes are making great progress.

Like so many political terms, "progressive" is deceptive because it suggests the idea of making progress, and is most often associated with the political left. But both the left and right are currently dominated by progressives, and progress has nothing to do with it. "Neocons" (progressive conservatives) want to keep government social programs small, but spend trillions destroying the liberty of citizens in other countries and trampling the liberties of citizens here at home with the futile war on drugs. Progressive-Liberals want to keep government military programs small, but spend trillions destroying the liberty of citizens in our own country. So really, the term "progressive" is about government progressively growing bigger and progressively encroaching on our liberties. Most people would probably agree that this is not progress in any normal sense of the word.

While the progressive factions within the Cowlitz tribe do not yet dominate tribal politics, their power is on the rise and threatens to turn the Cowlitz culture from our ancient traditions of communal libertarianism. Under the cover of tradition they are introducing cultural activities that our ancestors would have viewed as foreign. These factions have an agenda and should they gain control over the tribe then the kind of behavior attributed to our current leaders by the KATU report is certain to follow. They have no tolerance for disagreement, let alone dissent. I know this from personal experience.

There are those who will criticize me for writing publicly with such candor about the internal politics of my tribe, but I do it so that you will know my words are true. If our current leaders were anything at all like Tilkin's report implies, I would have already been subjected to worse than Steve Meyers because the progressive faction on council tried to have me banned with no recourse after I voluntarily resigned my seat on Tribal Council to provide an independent news service to our members. Members of the progressive faction are trying to rewrite history to claim that I resigned from Tribal Council in May 2012 under duress, but I have documentation to prove that I expressed my desire to resign in August 2011, and that I frequently wrote and talked about resigning from then until I finally did in May.

While I support Chairman Iyall and his administration, as I see it my responsibility is to the Cowlitz people. I report to them. Literally. As a consequence, my relationship with the leadership of the Cowlitz might be described as strained. So when I write that the KATU attack is unwarranted, you can believe that my words are true. In fairness, however, I should disclose that Nancy Osborne is one of my best friends, but that doesn't prevent her from cussing me out on occassion, nor does it bias my reports. (I should mention that Nancy is exceptionally brilliant and knowledgeable. Okay, maybe that was a biased comment, or maybe I'm just trying to score brownie points.)

The 100 Years War
The way in which I conduct my news service marks one of the major differences between the legitimate purposes of the press and the mainstream media today, and also why tribes have so little trust for the press. KATU had no real interest in the truth but was only using Hill and Meyers to gin up a controversy they could use to increase ratings. And like most stories in Indian Country, the story is old. This one began some 100 years ago, in 1912. Thom and Steve are members of the venerable Wannassay family. Some members of their family believe that they should be recognized as a tribal nation in their own right. (See The Wannassay Clan of the Cowlitz Indians connection to the Clark County.) Maybe they should, but I still accept them as Cowlitz, even though Thom chose to enroll in the Quinault Tribe many years ago.

Like some members of our current leadership, some members of the Wannassay family also believe that the tribes of the pacific coast were ruled by aristocrats. It's possible, but while I suspect it's a myth that was started in the late 19th century I would like to see an army of archeologists, anthropologists and historians work to find out the truth, because according to the currently accepted history our ancestors could best be described as classical liberals in the best tradition of Edmund Burke. (Here in America we generally refer to classical liberals as conservatives, but it is a social rather than religious conservatism and more libertarian than authoritarian.)

This "war" could only be of mild interest to the public. It's a part of the history of Cowlitz Country, and the current effort has more to do with factional politics than anything else. Most tribes prefer to keep such things out of the mainstream because, ignoring behavior far worse in their own communities, mostly-White politicians and special interest groups grab hold of such stories and use them to flog tribes and drum up support in opposition to tribal efforts, activities and projects.

Blood Quantum Issue Revisited
In their second report, KATU came back to the blood quantum issue:

However, in regards to the sanctity of tribe members’ personal files, the BIA’s original research findings suggest tribal leadership was not above using that information for political purposes.

“People interviewed believed that leaders have used genealogical information against adversaries so as to jeopardize their or their children’s voting memberships … blood quanta have been evaluated to the disadvantage of a member viewed as troublesome and to the advantage of members closely allied to people in positions of power,” the BIA wrote in their report.

BIA officials went on to say, “The threat that a small change [to blood quanta] could do away with one’s own or one’s children’s voting rights is enough to discourage blatant public criticism of the people who control enrollment, according to several informants who talked to the BIA anthropologists in 1999.” - Recent Newscast Attack on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, William Iyall Chairman, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, January 9, 2013

From 1912 to the present, including 1999, those who voiced the strongest support for using blood quantum to determine enrollment eligibility have included members of the Wannassay family. In other words, KATU is siding with the very people who want to do exactly what KATU is implying our current leaders were guilty of doing. Not two months ago, one of their cousins accused me, in not so many words, of being a member of Tribal Council in September 2003 (which I was) when his brother was called before the council for, among other things, trying to stir up trouble to get several families disenrolled because our blood quantum wasn't high enough or pure enough to suit them.

Enrollment the Real Issue
Where does Thom Hill really stand on this issue. As KATU reported, he filed a lawsuit in which he claimed to have a dispute regarding the blood quantum criteria:

Given the issues of tribal sovereignty, the BIA cannot step in; an official challenge to the legitimacy of a tribal leader can only come from within the tribe itself. That is what Thomas Hill was trying to do when he filed a lawsuit in federal court in late December over the blood quantum issue. Although Hill is a member Quinault tribe, he is by blood 1/4 Cowlitz.

KATU News reported on his legal challenge in our original story, but as Iyall points out in his website statement, “That lawsuit was dismissed by the federal court on January 3rd, the day of the newscast,” the judge describing the lawsuit as “frivolous.”

The judge’s ruling did not examine the validity of Hills supporting documents. The court decided the way he wrote the lawsuit (by hand, without the help of a lawyer) did not form a cause of action and that there was a lack of jurisdiction; therefore, it’s legally frivolous.

Hill tells KATU News he’s going to try to get a lawyer to write the lawsuit.

Not that the Cowlitz should be surprised at a court challenge: the BIA warned tribal leaders in the “final determination” filing that, “inconsistency in the application of eligibility standards leaves a tribe open to serious membership disputes, and to lawsuits and raises issues under the Indian Civil Rights Act.” - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin and Kelly Hatmaker, KATU News Published: Jan 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST

The current enrollment process, which Thom Hill is trying to overturn, was adopted after federal acknowledgement and resolved the "inconsistency in the application of eligibility standards" issue. But Thom wants to get the enrollment policy that the BIA criticized reinstated so that he can enroll in the Cowlitz Tribe.

Under the current policy, which was enacted by the General Council, he is no longer eligible. That was by his own choice. At any time prior to February 14, 2000, he could have switched his enrollment from Quinault to Cowlitz. For personal reasons he chose to remain enrolled in the Quinault Tribe, and now that he wants to enroll in the Cowlitz Tribe, it's too late.

And so he is trying to use the court and the mainstream media to force the Tribe to let him in. If he succeeds Cowlitz enrollment would swell to the point where services to members who supported the tribe for decades would be reduced to a pittance. Our administrative and support offices would be overwhelmed. The Tribe would be impoverished. Not even a thriving casino would be enough to meet the demand for services.

The big government progressive factions would thrive while our members suffered. Whether to the right or to the left, progressives claim they are all about the people but their real goal is to grow and run bureaucracies. They already threaten to do that, but if the tribe is forced to reinstate the criteria Thom wants, they will hold private celebrations once they realize what a boon it will be to them. Within 3 years following federal acknowledgement, the tribe's enrollment more than doubled and now stands at almost 4,000 members. If the tribe is forced to reinstate the old enrollment policy, it could easily double and then double again before the end of the decade.

The progressive faction aside, the Cowlitz are led by people who are well educated, highly accomplished and were personally successful before being elected to office. And all of them--even some of the progressives--have worked diligently for more than 10 years to develop projects that have been a great benefit not only to our members, but to the communities within Cowlitz Country. We have medical and mental health clinics and housing services, fisheries and wildlife restoration projects, and economic development projects that are waiting for the funding we hope will be provided by the Casino and that will, if successful, provide as much benefit to the communities of South West Washington State as they will to the tribe's members.

Traditions vs. Politically Correct Stereotypes
Those who want the tribe to revert to the old enrollment criteria want to get rid of our current leaders and replace them with progressive leaders. Progressives in Indian Country generally rely on government funding and programs and do little for the surrounding non-Indian communities. Generally, they reinforce all the worst stereotypes of Indian Country. Stereotypes we are trying to dispel. Stereotypes that often get confused with traditional culture:

The tug-of-war between pro-business and pro-tradition camps within the Cowlitz Indian Tribe is deeply rooted and well documented by the BIA.

The final determination report includes notes on the public dispute in 1992 over the construction of a tribal sweat lodge, which BIA officials said highlighted “the cleft between the followers of [then-tribal Chairman] John Barnett, who focuses primarily on the business aspects of the tribe, and of another segment… who would like the tribe to put more emphasis on spiritual, cultural and welfare issues.” - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin and Kelly Hatmaker, KATU News Published: Jan 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST

Early written accounts of tribal "sweatlodges" in South West Washington descrbe them as being large enough for only a single person. (See Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, by Elizabeth Fenn.) They were a part of traditional healing. Like powwows, however, the modern pacific coast sweatlodge appears to be of relatively recent origin. Nothing wrong with that. But the rift was more complex and nuanced than the KATU report implies. According to the Anthropological Technical Report (155 pages long) cited in the KATU report, "Other differences arose when a group of Upper Cowlitz, métis, and Boisfort/Peell families constructed a sweat lodge in 1995, and began holding ceremonies. Guided by Upper Cowlitz relatives and Chehalis friends, these practices were seen as clashing with the ceremonialism of the Tribal council members."

In the much more lengthy version of the report (866 pages long), it indicates that the sweatlodge was built by members who were drawn to the Shaker religion. On the same page of the report cited by KATU, it notes the following: "The ancestor of one of the Lower Cowlitz families, the Iyalls, was an important Shaker minister in the late 19th and early 20th Century." Indeed, Chairman Bill Iyall's ancestor was one of the founders of the Church.

Moreover, the dispute over the sweatlodge was about religious differences between tribal council members with a Shaker "orientation" and tribal council members with a protestant "orientation." Neither the Shaker religion nor Protestantism are part of aboriginal Cowlitz tradition. They are both new traditions. As such, they are both equally valid, and today we have Cowlitz members who follow many different faiths, or none at all. But it would not serve KATU's purposes to mention these facts. What does serve their purposes is to focus on other aspects of the controversy over the sweatlodge:

The sweat lodge was also built “when a power struggle was going on between Barnett, the chairman of the General Council and Jerry Bouchard, the chairman of the Tribal Council” and that one of the underlying issues “may have been blood quanta of various individuals attached to Bouchard or to Barnett … Clearly blood quanta allegations were mixed in to the arguments about the sweat lodge and the role of traditionalists between 1992 and the present.” - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin and Kelly Hatmaker, KATU News Published: Jan 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST
What the KATU report does not mention is that the BIA report also stated, "Nothing in the record shows that the council as a governing body ever took an official position to oppose the building of the sweat lodge." Going back to a previous quote above, this was a clash between Shakers and Protestants. But it was also a clash over the role of of a political body--the tribal council--in personal spiritual practices. More than this, it was about prioritizing the efforts of the council. Keep in mind that, even today, the Cowlitz Tribal Council is unpaid and receives only a small stipend for gas, and that while some council members work many hours every month on tribal matters, most devote only one Saturday a month. And while some tribal employees who are members of the tribe also serve on Tribal Council, none but the tribal chair are employed to work full time to fulfill the duties of their office on behalf of the tribe. And in 1999, not even the tribal chair was on the payroll. So setting priorities for how they spend their time is not a trivial pursuit.

Business vs. Culture: Setting Priorities
Most members of most tribes, including the Cowlitz, want our culture back. Not to lose the benefits of modern culture, but to remember who we are, celebrate our past, gain perspective on our present, and appreciate our place in the future. Many of us want to learn the old Cowlitz Salish--which was actually very beautiful--and to walk the paths our ancestors walked, see the places they revered and to praise our Creator as they did. But in the modern world all of these things take money. So those tribes who are dominated and run by "pro-tradition camps" tend to be impoverished and always looking to the government for hand-outs.

Members of tribes with money have the time and the means to indulge in more cultural activities. Chairman John Barnett had nothing against culture, but he saw it as the job of the tribal government to conduct the business of the tribe and leave cultural matters to our individual members. In many different ways over the years, he said as much. But some members--especially among the progressives--demand that the body responsible for conducting the business of the tribe should instead focus all its attention (translation: put all or most of the tribe's money into) supporting cultural activities.

Some would call those members short-sighted and self-indulgent. I prefer to think of them as being overcome with enthusiasm.

Sadly, Jerry Bouchard, named above, and a couple of his relatives took it upon themselves to destroy the sacred altar when they rebuilt the sweatlodge last year. Such is the imperial authoritarianism of the Cowlitz tribal leadership that for this wanton destruction of tribal property Jerry and his kin were sentenced to...apologize. (For the totally clueless, I am being ironic.) They refused. The bad medicine is on them.

The Bad Land Settlement
Digging further into the past KATU reported on superficial aspects of the controversy within the tribe over the land settlement:

The influence of heritage and membership on tribal business decisions dates back even further, to at least the 1970s, and sparked something of a civil war as the tribe was voting on the distribution of federal monetary compensation.

The final determination report, quoting from the BIA’s technical report on the tribe, sets the stage: “On March 3, 1971, the CTI (Cowlitz Tribal Indians) held a meeting to consider the proposed ICC settlement. The overall vote was 172 in favor of accepting the settlement and 36 opposed. Among the opponents, however, were influential members of the group, including Donald Cloquet and John Barnett. ... Barnett advocated diverting 80 percent of the claims funds to buying land and building some sort of tribal government.” - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin and Kelly Hatmaker, KATU News Published: Jan 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST

The KATU report goes on to describe how John led a group to fight against the vote, but they are ignorant about the details.

For many years and today, members attending General Council meetings have to sign in. They receive a wrist band to identify themselves as members and cannot receive ballots to vote on issues without showing their wrist band. The reason for this practice began with the 1971 vote on the land claims settlement. There were many people attending that meeting who were not enrolled members of the tribe. Of the enrolled members who voted to accept the settlement, many feared that it was all they would ever get for being Cowlitz. Others because they were living in poverty and needed the money. Sadly, they were duped. It was more than 30 years before even a fraction of the settlement was distributed to the tribe.

But that was not why John led the effort to oppose the settlement. Tribes that accepted land settlements without stipulating that the settlement did not waive tribal members' hunting and fishing rights lost them, while those tribes that did make the stipulation kept theirs. Unfortunately, the leadership at the time did not side with him. Sadly, John was right. Today the federal government recognizes the rights of the Medicine Creek Treaty tribes to hunt and fish in Cowlitz Country, but not the Cowlitz people.

The KATU report concludes:

Importantly, again quoting from the BIA findings, this controversy lead (SIC) to the tribe’s first attempt to set a blood quantum standard in regards to distribution of tribal benefits. “As a result of the controversy over voter eligibility, the CIT (Cowlitz Indian Tribe) adopted a new constitution which much more precisely defined membership standards” voting to “exclude from receipt of judgment fund awards … Cowlitz descendants with less than 1/16th blood quantum.” - Questions about heritage of tribal leaders behind mega-casino, Dan Tilkin and Kelly Hatmaker, KATU News Published: Jan 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST
One of the purposes of that was to establish the means to prevent non-members from voting so that meetings could not be packed with non-members who showed up solely to corrupt an election or any other vote. Nonetheless, including blood quantum was a bad idea. It was carried over from the federal government's practice that haunts most tribes to this day. But that was rectified with the enrollment policy that Thom Hill wants to eliminate. Moreover, most of the leaders who were responsible for implementing the blood quantum have long since passed away, but KATU flogs the issue anyway because it supports their implied contention that our current leaders are corrupt.

Personal Perspective
The actions taken by the Tribal Council against Thom and Steve were reasonable and carefully considered. Steve was asked to attend the January 5, 2013, Tribal Council meeting to discuss this matter. He did not show up. So the council took action without him. But Steve is an enrolled member, he has rights, and the action against him will be reconsidered if he returns the stolen records to the council. Thom is not a member of the Cowlitz, but enrolled Quinault. Though many of us like Thom, he crossed the line when he attacked the tribe and the council took no joy in banning him.

Personally, I can write about this from experience, and from that experience vouch for the caliber of our present leaders. Not two months ago the progressive faction on Tribal Council tried to run me out for publishing this site (Cowlitz Country News) and for publishing a private Cowlitz Tribe members-only report. Despite that I have criticized our leadership on many issues, they resisted the ambush, and although I intend to file defamation of character lawsuits against each of the individuals who maliciously lied about me and slandered me to my parents and the other members present at that meeting, the matter is otherwise closed. If our current leaders were anything at all like they are portrayed by the KATU report, I would have been banned, too.

Regarding the KATU report, I would have found it interesting rather than disgusting had they focused on impartial reportage and a genuine interest in the real story, rather than trying to gin up a controversy over nothing of interest to anybody in the mainstream beyond those who will try to use it against the tribe. The history of the Cowlitz, and indeed of all Indian Country, is as full and rich as any throughout the world. Western Washington had its own version of William Wallace: Chief Leschi of the Nisqually Tribe. Wallace was portrayed with compelling passion by Mel Gibson in the movie, Braveheart. A park is named after Chief Leschi, who martyred himself to save his tribe, and his sacrifice deserves a Braveheart movie, too. If anybody does make a movie about him, I would recommend basing it on Della Gould Emmons' 1965 semi-fictional account, Leschi of the Nisquallies, which really brings Leschi as a human being to life.

Leschi was Nisqually but there are many such stories in Indian Country, and some of them are Cowlitz. Everybody would be far better served were KATU to focus on them, than on wallowing in the muck of their own ignorance to stir up trouble that only serves those who oppose every interest of all the Cowlitz people.

Untsa Uq'n Naway

I see you.


Rod Van Mechelen is the publisher of The Backlash! @ and Cowlitz Country News. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.

Copyright © 2011-2013 Rod Van Mechelen; all rights reserved.
Rod Van Mechelen, Publisher & Editor, Cowlitz Country News

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