Tony Johnson is the cultural committee chairman of the Chinook tribe. Lewis and Clark met the Chinook as they got closer to the Pacific Ocean, and they lived among the Chinook at Fort Clatsop in the winter of 1805-1806. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
Our image is a lot different than America has. To us, short of their rifles, they were not very impressive. A five year old Chinook could make a finer rig. They were not suited for our country. Real pitiful looking. The clothes they were wearing, their condition when they got to us. Even the winter they spent here and they talk about how miserable they were at Fort Clatsop. Had they asked to live with our local people, they would have had a perfectly good winter there.
They stole a canoe on their way out of town here. The implication was that it was payback for the elk that we took from them. That's a funny concept to us, since that elk was ours. This is our country. People didn't just come into your country and steal your resources randomly.
Lewis and Clark clearly lived here at our community decision. We all had muskets and sabers. They lived here by our kind-heartedness. That's the frustration at this point, obviously. We helped folks settle this country and they in turn end up with everything that at one time was ours.
It's important that people see our situation; everything we want and have had taken away from us. And we've been in a fight for 100 years trying to get our status back. We need to have land to call our own, and places to fish, and hunting country. Even our religion requires places that are undisturbed, and they don't exist in the way we would like them to.
We need a reservation. With that comes an infrastructure. We are consistently losing people to neighboring communities where there is fishing and hunting and work and the few things that are available to tribal people. How can you be a Chinook if you can't fish for sturgeon or salmon?