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Bitter debate continues over development near ‘sacred’ Snoqualmie Falls

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SNOQUALMIE -- As Lois Sweet Dorman looked out over Snoqualmie Falls, she recalled the stories she was told growing up as a member of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe.

“Our teachings live in our stories,” she said. “This is the place where Moon the Transformer, in the time before, changed the world from what we saw then to what we see now.”

Snoqualmie Falls, which draws around 1.8 million tourists each year, is at the center of an increasingly bitter and public debate over new development.

The Snoqualmie Tribe claims the city’s construction of a roundabout near the entrance to the falls is taking place on an ancestral burial ground.

“What’s happening here is irresponsible development of a scared place,” Dorman said.

Matt Larson, mayor of the City of Snoqualmie, said an archeological review of the site found no evidence of a burial ground, although work was temporarily stopped after a 4,500 to 9,000-year-old Native American hunting point was unearthed near the center of the project.

Larson accused the tribe of masking other, less honorable motives for opposing the roundabout and future planned developments in the area.

“The Snoqualmies are very interested – and are in the works as we speak – of looking to build a 300-room hotel connected with the Snoqualmie Casino,” he said. “The Muckleshoot Tribe is building a hotel that would compete with that. So there’s some underlying economic interests here about development.”

In a recent letter, the tribal council blasted Larson for what it called irresponsible development, and accused him of making dishonest comments about the tribe’s opposition to the project.

“Your opinions of our decades-long effort to protect the Snoqualmie Falls and the land nearby are hurtful and detrimental to a respectful and effective government-to-government relationship,” the tribe wrote. “Your actions call our relationship into question.”

Larson acknowledged that the city’s relationship with the tribe has been damaged.

“I think we’ve already gone beyond that point,” he said, “particularly with how they’ve dealt with this issue in a very public manner.”

Steven Mullen-Moses, director of archeology and historic preservation for the Snoqualmie Tribe, said opposition to the development is as much about the spiritual significance of the area as it is about what might be buried there.

“It’s one and the same as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The spiritual and cultural significance in my mind wouldn’t change whether or not anything was discovered or not. There are certain locations, and Snoqualmie Falls is one of those locations, where that is always, always going to be an issue.”

“For our tribe this is so hurtful,” Dorman said. “It’s is very difficult to think of your family history simply being carted off as an inconvenience. We have been bringing this message to anyone with ears to hear, and an open heart to understand why it’s irresponsible in this area. We’re not against development. We’re against irresponsible development. That’s the difference.”