Barnett, John : Cowlitz Chairman passes at 73

Longview, Washington (AP) 6-08

John Barnett, who led Washington state’s Cowlitz tribe to federal recognition and as chairman battled for the right to operate a casino north of Vancouver, has passed on at the age of 73.

Barnett, a longtime timber industry worker, passed away June 15 at his home north of Aberdeen, according to the tribe’s Web site and a recorded message on the tribe’s telephone answering machine. The recorded message said tribal offices in Longview would remain closed.

Philip L. Harju, tribal counsel and spokesman, declined to discuss the cause of death.

“We’re all in mourning for the loss of a great man and a great leader,” Harju said June 17.

Tribal Vice Chairman William Iyall of Gig Harbor was named temporary chairman. He told The Columbian of Vancouver that he would not discuss the process for selecting a permanent replacement out of respect for Barnett.

“Our thoughts are with our beloved chairman,” he said.

Barnett, a native of Portland, Ore., who took the helm of the 3,600-member tribe in 1982, described himself in congressional testimony in 2001 as “a son of a Finn lady and a Cowlitz Indian. I am sometimes referred to by my colleagues as the big Finndian.”

After a long battle, the Cowlitz won formal status in 2002 but remain the only federally recognized tribe in Washington state without any land.

On May 30, the federal government issued a final environmental impact statement for taking a 152-acre parcel west of La Center into trust on the tribe’s behalf. The tribe has applied for the site to become its initial reservation, which would allow gambling on the property.

The tribe’s effort to build a large casino complex at the site has generated intense opposition in Clark County and from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, which operate the Spirit Mountain Casino west of Salem, Ore.

Barnett’s son, David, has formed a partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut to build a $510 million casino resort and to operate it for seven years.

Barnett worked in the timber industry about 50 years, starting as a logger and rising to ownership of a wood products company.

Forests and salmon are “the cornerstones of our culture,” Barnett told the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health in June 2001.

“Tribal uses, historically, were different than those of white society,” he said. “We use the forests for ceremonial purposes, spiritual purposes. We use them for vision quests, which I have been on many times ... to learn from my spirit master what to do and when to do it.

“We also realize that the forest was put there for our use and our survival. Hunting and fishing and the other resources of the forests are used to live as Indian people. This has been going on since time immemorial.