Sacred casino?

DID THE SNOQUALMIE INDIAN TRIBE make a play to put a casino on a site it has long claimed as sacred? The question has been swirling around the city of Snoqualmie in recent days, after Puget Western president Bob Boyd let it be known that the tribe offered to buy a piece of the land that his real estate company has slated for the controversial Falls Crossing development.

At first, Boyd told a very straightforward story: "We've had people [from the tribe] come to us saying they wanted to acquire the site to do a casino."

If true, the revelation is startling because for months the tribe and a group of local residents have been fighting the development based in part on the meaning of the land for its native inhabitants. The development site is adjacent to Snoqualmie Falls, which is the center of the tribe's creation story, the place where a being called "Moon the Transformer" gave birth to the first woman and the first man before climbing into the sky. "It is very significant, I can't stress that enough," says Lois Sweet Dorman, a tribal spokesperson.

Questioned further, Boyd revealed he was exaggerating somewhat. He now says tribal council member Ray Mullen never used the word "casino" in a March 8 meeting. Boyd says that a business associate whom Mullen brought along, an Arizona management consultant named Jim Daly, was the one who mentioned a casino in a separate telephone conversation. Daly, however, says a casino on that site was never a possibility. But a "resort hotel" was, an idea that has since been dropped.

The tribe, while strangely continuing to dismiss talk of any bid to develop there as "rumor," gives yet another not entirely consistent account of the story. "I think if you caught wind of anything, you caught wind of a hotel being put up there," says Mullen, sitting with other tribal leaders in their small headquarters on the Preston-Fall City Road. He says the idea originated with the city, which approached the tribe "about putting in a five-star resort and casino there," a development thought to be less intrusive than the residential and retail community Puget Western wants to build. "Not a casino," tribal vice-chair Mary Anne Hinzman quickly adds. "They didn't ask us about a casino."

The tribe does say it is mulling over a casino in some location, though, but that the idea is controversial and must be approved by the general membership. As a tribe newly recognized by the federal government last fall, the Snoqualmies are frantically searching for a money-making enterprise that will allow them to buy land for the reservation it needs to launch health and senior services.

Read Snoqualmie's qualms, a report on the battle over a new development next to Snoqualmie Falls.

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