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Ken Hansen, 53; fought for tribe that was forgotten

SEATTLE -- Ken Hansen, who spent three decades trying to convince the US government that the Samish Indian Nation wasn't extinct and deserved treaty fishing rights, has died, tribal officials said.

Mr. Hansen, 53, who was diabetic and had heart problems and other chronic illnesses, died Wednesday.

He was Samish tribal chairman several times and retired from leadership in October because of his failing health, said Thomas Wooten, who succeeded Mr. Hansen as chairman.

``The tribe is noted for its tenacity and doggedness on issues. That's his legacy," Wooten said Thursday.

Mr. Hansen gained attention in the 1980s when he petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service for listing under the Endangered Species Act, noting that his San Juan Islands-area tribe and several others had been dropped from a tribe list prepared by a Bureau of Indian Affairs clerk in 1969.

``The whole concept of a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., telling Indian people that they are not Indians or that they are extinct as a tribe is incredible," Mr. Hansen told the Seattle Post-Intelligence in a 1992 interview. ``It's racist and it's political genocide."

``How do you lose an Indian tribe?" he said.

The Samish, which were federally recognized under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, were also excluded in a federal judge's 1974 ruling on allocation of fishing rights.

Thirty years later, in January 2005, a federal appeals court panel helped clear the way for the Samish tribe to acquire a share of the Washington state salmon catch.

``My only regret is that he won't be there to see us prevail on the treaty rights case" and on the tribe's appeal for compensation for the years when it was delisted, Wooten said.

Mr. Hansen also was known for his leadership among the small tribes of Washington state and worked for other tribes as a consultant and policy analyst, Wooten said.

Mr. Hansen grew up in the Seattle area and became active in tribal politics at age 18. He moved about 20 years ago to Anacortes.

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