Snoqualmie Tribe on road to self-sufficiency

By Sonia Krishnan
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
January 04, 2005

Arlene Ventura keeps a memento in her office from the days when the
Snoqualmie Tribe held council meetings out of a two-car garage in Fall City.

Ventura still uses the worn brown chair every day at the tribe's new office
in Carnation because it reminds her of the Snoqualmie journey, from an
unacknowledged tribe to a federally recognized force striving toward
self-sufficiency.

"We've climbed many mountains," said Ventura, secretary of tribal affairs
and a tribal princess.

But in many respects, their voyage has just begun.

Since the tribe received recognition from the federal government in 1999, it
has opened two public-health clinics, founded a drug-and-alcohol recovery
center and staked a claim to its reservation land.

Tribal leaders are learning how to navigate a system according to written
rules instead of traditional customs. They have drafted a constitution,
drawn up laws and hired an administrator - the first non-native to work for
the tribe. Now they are awaiting federal approval to build a $70 million
casino near North Bend. It's the tribe's biggest project yet, one that could
spell financial security.

"The tribe isn't asking for any favors," said Ray Mullen, Tribal Council
member and chairman of the economic-development committee. "We're asking for
what's right."

Meanwhile, there are programs to oversee, needs to tend to and people to
feed.

There is a village to run.

Awaiting BIA action

Inside a small cedar lodge on Tolt Avenue in downtown Carnation sits tribal
headquarters, the epicenter of Snoqualmie affairs. An old Top 40 hit plays
softly in the lobby on a recent morning.

The Tribal Council has convened its biweekly meeting in a nearby room.
Conceptual drawings for the Snoqualmie Hills Casino decorate the walls,
showing the casino nestled among evergreen trees.

The fact that the tribe is even here, in a meeting that could mirror any
other City Council's - with an agenda and subcommittees - is an unsung
milestone.

"You would hear things about 'This is the white man's way,' or 'Why do we
have to follow a system like that?' " said Matt Mattson, the tribal
administrator and attorney who was hired in 2000. "But the tribe realized
that, in order to act as a government within the framework of Western
civilization, this was necessary."

At the meeting, Mattson updates the council on the casino's status. It's
become a sore subject as the tribe's application hangs in limbo with the
U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA must designate the 56-acre site as
reservation land. The tribe has been waiting since 2001. The tribe wants to
break ground on the casino by next spring and is petitioning political
leaders, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee, to expedite the process.

But getting the government to certify land as a reservation - meaning the
parcel falls under tribal authority and is generally exempt from state
laws - is a lengthy process.

"There are documented cases that have taken five years," said Judy Joseph,
superintendent of the Puget Sound Agency of the BIA.

A group of Arizona-based investors has agreed to help the tribe purchase and
develop the King County-owned site once the federal government acts. The
147,000-square-foot casino would create 700 jobs in the Snoqualmie Valley.

As a sovereign nation, the Snoqualmie tribe operates on a $2 million budget,
80 percent of which comes from federal grants. State grants, private
foundation money and revenue from its health clinics make up the remainder.
The tribe is eyeing future casino funds to start a child-care center and
build senior housing for its elders, among other projects.

"It will be our economic engine," Mullen said.

A man of 2 tribes

After the tribal meeting breaks up, council member Ron Enick wants to share
a story. It's about a young man who grew up belonging to one tribe and
longing for another.

Enick, 45, was a member of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe in Darrington. He and his
father, Jerry Enick, are part Sauk-Suiattle and joined that tribe because
they needed health coverage.

But father and son also have Snoqualmie blood.

Jerry Enick's mother, Evelyn Kanim Enick, was a Snoqualmie princess and the
family grew up in Carnation - the tribal heartland. They gave up their
membership in the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe and rejoined the Snoqualmies after
recognition; Jerry Enick was voted one of two chiefs.

"It was like I was coming home," said Ron Enick, who joined in 2003.

Others also are being drawn back to the tribe, now that status as a
sovereign nation has been secured. Federal recognition of an Indian tribe
carries economic, political and social benefits, from health care to money
for housing.

Arlene Ventura is secretary of tribal affairs
By Dea Rutz

The tribe has grown by 25 people since 1999 and has about 600 members, said Katherine Barker, a lifetime member in charge of enrollment.

Hopefuls must prove that they are at least one-eighth Snoqualmie through
birth certificates and genealogy records. A committee checks the
authenticity of the applicant's family tree, and the Tribal Council decides.

Even as the tribe attracts renewed interest, it remains a shadow of its
former self. At one time it 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 Everett, to the U.S. government. The tribe
never was paid for the land, and the people eventually scattered throughout
the Puget Sound region.

Tribal leaders had sought territory 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 1952 that they began a
47-year fight to regain their status.

Their dream is to create a centralized location. A home.

A helping hand for health

The Tolt Community Clinic one block from tribal headquarters is quiet on a
cold winter afternoon. Tribal member Catherine Jones emerges from the
patient room to schedule her next appointment.

Jones, 55, has had a rough year. After her husband died from prostate cancer
in October, she went to the emergency room with chest pains. Tests showed
she had a heart fibrillation that required her to stop working temporarily.

"I had no idea," she said. "I thought I was just exhausted from taking care
of my husband."

There was another problem: She had no medical insurance. Jones had lost her
previous job two years ago when her Arlington-based employer, a caviar
company, moved to Alaska. And she hadn't yet qualified for coverage at her
new job at a grocery store in Marysville. She panicked.

A tribal elder advised her to seek help at the Tolt center. As part of the
federal Indian Health Service, the clinic pays for treatment for recognized
members of native tribes. Jones travels more than an hour to get to
Carnation.

Much of what the doctors see are the same ills that plague Native Americans
nationwide: diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and heart and kidney
disease.

The tribe runs two clinics; the other is in North Bend. The clinics serve 75
to 80 patients a week, and most are on welfare, said Dr. Gerald Yorioka,
medical director of the Tolt clinic.

With no job and no income, Jones is counting on the tribal food bank to keep
her pantry full for two weeks at a time. The tribe also helps pay her
electricity bill.

It gets her by.

"The golden goose"

A ranch-style home with carpeting and wood paneling on Entwistle Drive in
Carnation doubles as the tribe's social-service agency. Pamphlets on
nicotine addiction and alcohol abuse greet visitors at the entrance.
Patients speak with counselors in two rooms near the back.

This is where Marie Ramirez spends her days as the tribe's social-services
and interim health director.

She has a vision that someday a Snoqualmie Tribe high-school student will
walk up to her and say, '"I want your job."

She says this as someone who has seen too many native children succumb to
troubling high-school dropout rates, drug abuse and alcoholism.

In 2002, the tribe set up a program called the Family Canoe project that
matches at-risk students with adult mentors and prepares them for a
three-week paddling journey during the summer. The trip stresses living off
the land and connecting with tribal history.

As a teen, Staci Moses got caught up in drinking and drugs, and never
finished high school. A lifetime member of the Snoqualmie Tribe, Moses
sobered up seven years ago and got a job working for the tribe as a youth
coordinator. Now she hopes her three daughters make it to college.

"I tell them, 'Be the first one to walk down that [graduation] aisle,' " she
said. "I didn't get a chance to." Ramirez says she is eager for the casino
to get started. She sees those funds helping Snoqualmie children invest in
their future.

"It's the golden goose," she said. "Only with the tribe becoming
educationally sound can it move forward."

Back at tribal headquarters, Chief Jerry Enick sits alone at the empty
council table. It's noon and most of the office has cleared out for lunch.

Enick isn't in a hurry to go anywhere. At 71, he has become a patient man.
He saw the tribe through its bleakest days and watches now as it stands on
the cusp of a new era.

Before recognition, "it was a lot of wishes and wants," he said.

"Now it's up to us to get it done. I just hope it happens before I pass
away."

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