Snoqualmie Falls and the surrounding area are sacred to the Snoqualmie Tribe. Considered the birthplace of their people, it also became, beginning in 2015, the construction site of a roundabout that could be followed by a large housing tract. Tribal councilmember Lois Sweet Dorman and chairwoman Carolyn Lubenau discussed the tribe’s challenging relationship with the city of Snoqualmie, and its philanthropic goals.
Q: What does Snoqualmie Falls – and, conversely, the proposed development near it – mean to the tribe?
Dorman: My mother always referred to how blessed we were to be raised here. We’re Snoqualmie. It’s the Snoqualmie River. It’s Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie Valley, Snoqualmie Pass. This is the area that we’ve lived in for thousands of years. This is a place of healing, the creation place for the first people of the Northwest — not just for us, but for a number of other tribes. We are born into the wonderfulness of what some people would refer to as the Garden of Eden. This is where everything began.
Lubenau: One of the very first times I met the mayor (Matt Larson), he was proudly displaying a drawing of the over 200 homes that they would be developing right across from Snoqualmie Falls. I was taken aback. That area is a very sensitive area, well known not only to our tribe, but to tribes across Washington and people across the world. More than 2 million people visit each year. Where are you going to take your future generations if all these beautiful places have been surrounded by development?
Q: The tribe also sued the city, alleging a rate hike and action to discontinue sewer service at the casino are racial discrimination. What precipitated the lawsuit?
Dorman: We have been having the experience of our voices not being heard and being mischaracterzed in the public. As far as the lawsuit, the city singled us out because we are an Indian nation. We had to protect our investment. The casino provides for our services and jobs for the valley, and we’re proud to be the largest employer in Snoqualmie.
Lubenau: The main reason we have the lawsuit is to alert a judge that this may happen, and the judge can put an injunction in place so we can work out some kind of agreement with the city.
Q: The tribe has a significant philanthropic footprint. What’s your approach to giving?
Lubenau: There’s money every year in our budget to contribute if, God forbid, disaster strikes. So many things are overlooked. For example, we saw urgent need during the wildfires for an organization that saves animals. The Red Cross won’t do anything for animals. I don’t know if you have a pet, but in our house, our pet is like one of the children. We were able to provide a pickup truck that this organization used to rescue horses and farm animals that would have perished in that fire. These things aren’t very visible, but we actively look for an opportunity to fill a void.