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Casino in works, economic security is first

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SNOQUALMIE, Wash. ? Though the Snoqualmie tribe is based in a town that bears its name, it has no land to call its own. To rectify this situation, the tribe has been meeting with some local top officials in an attempt to secure 56 acres for a reservation.

This past summer the tribe filed an application with the BIA to place the 56 acres on three separate parcels ? the largest two, totaling 55 acres are owned by Snoqualmie Hills Joint Venture. Tribal sources said the tribe secured an anonymous investor to help obtain the land.

It is not the first time the tribe has had to rely on friends in high places. In 1997 it went to Congress to secure recognition. The tribe hopes lightning can strike twice.

In an increasingly common circumstance, the main complicating factor seems to be the tribe's intent to build a gaming casino in the heavily visited and wildly scenic area about 30 miles east of Seattle.

Tribal councilman Ray Mullen said the tribe has met with members of the staff of Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., asking for congressional action on obtaining trust lands for the reservation.

The tribe is making no secret about plans for a casino. In fact it made a presentation to Dunn's staffers. Mullen claims that Gov. Gary Locke also requested to see the presentation. Calls to the governor's Office of Native American Affairs were not returned.

Jen Burita, Dunn's press secretary said the tribe paid a courtesy visit to the offices but did not solicit any specific help.

"From what I understand it was a courtesy visit, telling our staff what they (Snoqualmies) were planning and nothing more," Burita said.

Burita added that the congresswoman has not taken a position on the issue but would be monitoring further developments.

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In addition to federal and state officials, including the offices of Sen. Patty Murry, D-Wash., the tribe is also holding meetings with local area municipalities to address citizen concerns and address issues surrounding the casino.

Two local state lawmakers apparently were upset about the way that Gov. Locke and the BIA informed them of the tribal application. Published reports indicate that state Reps. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, and Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, were dismayed they were not informed of the application until it was too late to arrange a public comment period on the tribe's application.

Repeated calls to Pflug and Anderson were not returned.

From his office, Mullen recounted the tough times the tribe has had to endure over the years. While a casino is in the works, Mullen said it is economic security the tribe most desires.

He said just having the land would be a major achievement for a tribe which until a few years ago required council members to pay their own expenses. In the days before federal recognition, the tribe often had to survive on a small grant, most of which, Mullen said had to fund the extensive legal and research fees for gaining recognition.

Additionally he said that since the tribe now has access to the government funds, many tribal members are coming back after being forced to join neighboring tribes for assistance purposes. Now that they are getting their members back, Mullen said the thing the tribe wants most is just a place to call home.

"It's funny if you think about it, we are the Snoqualmie tribe, that lives on the Snoqualmie River, which has Snoqualmie Falls, that flows through the Snoqualmie Valley below Snoqualmie Pass, yet we have no place to call home," Mullen said.

Newfound recognition afforded the tribe the ability to negotiate for the land on a "government to government" basis, he said.

Meanwhile, the tribe will have to wait to see if congressional action can streamline the BIA process. Sources in the BIA's Puget Sound Office in Everett said the tribe will have to first acquire the land before it can be put into trust.