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BIA clears hurdle for tribal casino east of Issaquah

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SEATTLE (AP) – The BIA has given a parcel of land east of Issaquah, Wash., federal reservation status, clearing a major hurdle in the Snoqualmie Tribe’s five-year effort to build a 150,000-square-foot casino off Interstate 90.

The 600-member Snoqualmie Tribe has been waiting since 2001 for reservation status, which means the 56-acre parcel is generally exempt from state laws.

“We’ve invested a lot of time, energy and effort into this,” said Matt Mattson, the tribal administrator. “The tribe has a lot of aspirations that are wrapped up in the hope of what Indian gaming will provide for the community. It’s a great day for the tribe.”

He’s hoping the lives of its people will be improved by income from the casino.

“We still have members who don’t have indoor plumbing,” he said. “I mean, it’s 2006.”

Construction on the casino 27 miles east of Seattle is expected to start in June, he said. Casino Snoqualmie is estimated to cost $90 million. The plan calls for three restaurants, a cigar bar and areas for live music and dancing. The gaming center is expected to create 700 jobs in the Snoqualmie Valley.

BIA approval was the last regulatory hurdle the Snoqualmie Tribe had to clear.

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In 2002, it received approval from the state gambling commission. Two years later, tribal officials struck a deal with the city of Snoqualmie to extend sewer lines and provide emergency services to the casino site. The tribe also had architectural plans drawn up and an agreement with an Arizona firm to develop and manage the casino for five years, after which the tribe would operate the facility on its own.

In January, the BIA published a notice of intent in the Federal Register to take the land into trust. The transfer became official at 5 p.m. March 2 when a 30-day waiting period ended and no appeals to that action were filed, Mattson said.

Tribal members say it’s been an uphill climb.

“It’s taken a long time to get this far, but this will have a big impact on what we want to do for the people of Snoqualmie,” said Jerry Enick, tribal chief.

He hopes the casino income will generate enough money for the tribe to buy more land, build housing and pay for health care for its members.

At one time, the Snoqualmie Tribe was 4,000 strong and one of the largest tribes in the Puget Sound area. In 1855, Snoqualmie Chief Patkanim ceded all tribal lands – from Snoqualmie Pass to Marysville – to the U.S. government as part of the Point Elliott Treaty, which was signed by 82 tribal leaders from the region. The tribe never was paid for the land, and its people eventually scattered throughout the region.

Tribal leaders had sought land for a reservation since shortly after the Civil War, but it wasn’t until the Snoqualmies were listed in the Congressional Record as an unrecognized tribe in 1953 that they began the fight to regain their status, which they received in 1999