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Saturday, March 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A little-known tribe is finding its voice

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

About the Snoqualmoos


Who: The Snoqualmoo Tribe, a group of about 300 Native Americans who say they are related to Chief Patkanim, the leader of the Snoqualmie Tribe in the 1800s. The Snoqualmoo Chief is Edwin Smith; the tribe chairman is Earngy Sandstrom.

Where: The tribe's members are scattered around the state, but many live north of Seattle, in areas such as Whidbey Island and Arlington. The tribal council meets once a month in Everett.

Future: The Snoqualmoo make up one of seven Washington tribes that aren't federally recognized. The group filed for recognition in the 1980s through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but is now considering seeking recognition through Congress.

The Snoqualmie Tribe is a known entity, federally recognized in 1999, its name echoed in natural wonders enjoyed by millions of people.

But the Snoqualmoos? Who are they?

They are a native group of about 300 people who share a dynamic blend of similarities and bitter disagreements with the Snoqualmie. The two groups lived as one tribe in the Snoqualmie Valley for thousands of years and as recently as the 1800s.

Despite keeping a relatively low profile over the years, the Snoqualmoo gained new prominence this month by publicly opposing an expansion of Salish Lodge near Snoqualmie Falls, which the tribe considers a sacred site. The members' re-emergence is the latest chapter in a complicated history inseparable from their more prominent, wealthier cousins.

Both groups share many of the same views on issues, such as protection of the falls and opposition to the lodge expansion, but they differ sharply on tribal identity and who has the right to speak for the native people of the Snoqualmie Valley.

Their divisions over bloodlines are so deep, they can't even agree on a name. The Snoqualmoos say their title is accurate. Chief Patkanim, the leader of the Snoqualmie Valley people, claimed his tribal affiliation as Snoqualmoo when he signed the Point Elliott Treaty with white settlers in 1855.

"(Snoqualmie) became a bastardized way of saying it," said Elmer Assman, a Snoqualmoo sub-chief. "After Snoqualmie River, Snoqualmie Falls and Snoqualmie Pass, it just sort of stuck."

The Snoqualmies say Western influence did change the last two letters of the word, but their tribe's federal recognition in 1999 confirmed they are the true descendants of Patkanim.

"(The Snoqualmoos) have just created a new name for themselves, and they're a splinter group," said Matt Mattson, Snoqualmie tribal administrator. "They're not a real tribe."

For the Snoqualmoos, most of whom have lived quietly under the name for 150 years, those are hurtful words. But regardless of title, the two groups are intertwined.

Same family tree

At least half the Snoqualmoos used to be members of the Snoqualmies, and both tribes are part of Patkanim's family tree, said Ken Tollefson, an anthropologist who used to work for the Snoqualmies.

In the 1840s, Patkanim's daughter Julia married a white settler and moved from the Snoqualmie Valley to Whidbey Island. Her descendants make up about half the current Snoqualmoos, and they've lived as a separate tribe for the past 150 years, tribal leaders said.

In the 1970s, a small group of Snoqualmoos joined the Snoqualmies after the federal government suggested the two tribes merge. This group stayed with the Snoqualmies until the 1980s and one member, Phil Wahl, even rose to tribe vice chairman.

But the Wahl group was banished after a conflict over bloodlines. Wahl says the Snoqualmies were threatened by his group's strong ties to Patkanim. The Snoqualmies say they chose a more strict lineage requirement for membership, and the Wahl group didn't agree and didn't meet the new standard.

Several years later, in the mid-1990s, a separate split occurred. A faction of Snoqualmies was banished after a two-year power struggle that ended in King County Superior Court. According to the Snoqualmies, former tribe chairman Ron Lauzon held an illegal election with his followers to reclaim his job.

For a year, Lauzon and then-tribe chairman Andy de los Angeles claimed leadership of the tribe, and while the courts considered the case, mail service was stopped to the tribe's office in Carnation, and bank accounts were frozen for several months.

In 1995, a King County judge ruled that de los Angeles and his tribal board were the tribe's legal leaders.

Lauzon says some of the tribe's leaders were not true Snoqualmies by blood, and they wanted to push out members who were. The Snoqualmies say Lauzon tried to "hijack" the tribe after he lost his original bid for re-election.

In any case, Lauzon and his followers then joined the Snoqualmoo, tribal leaders said. "They had no place to go," said Earngy Sandstrom, Snoqualmoo chairman. "We're all the same people."

The Wahl and Lauzon groups, which combine to make up about half the Snoqualmoos, are all banished Snoqualmies, said Mattson. Banishment is a serious step that strips the person of all status in the eyes of the tribe. "You no longer exist," Mattson said.

New push for recognition

Despite the conflicts, the Snoqualmoos have kept a relatively low profile over the years. They applied for federal recognition in the 1980s through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but haven't focused on the effort for years. They are now talking about seeking recognition through Congress, which they say would give them more sovereignty than bureau approval.

Tribe members are scattered around the state, but many live north of Seattle, in areas such as Whidbey Island and Arlington.

The Snoqualmoos have emerged recently for a few issues, including two Whidbey Island developments on tribal burial ground. But the Salish Lodge development is their first major trip to the public stage in a couple of years.

Tribal leaders say they want to rally other tribes and speak to Gov. Gary Locke in an effort to stop the lodge's expansion, which still needs building permits from the city. According to tribal legend, the mist from the falls carries prayers up to heaven, and tribal members are buried nearby.

Gaining respect, though, is difficult. The Snoqualmies say the Snoqualmoos have no right to speak for native people who lived near the falls. Some Snoqualmie city officials have also expressed doubts about the tribe's status.

The Snoqualmies oppose the lodge expansion, but are not actively campaigning against the project. They are devoting much of their time to opposing a long-term license for a Puget Sound hydroelectric plant at the falls.

Without federal recognition for the Snoqualmoos, many cities and public agencies don't listen to members' concerns like they do with the Snoqualmie and other recognized tribes, tribal leaders say.

"It's a constant battle," Sandstrom said.

Since receiving recognition in 1999, the Snoqualmie Tribe has started a new office in Carnation, two medical clinics and hired 40 full-time employees. The tribe receives nearly $2 million a year from the federal government and is planning a casino on Interstate 90 west of North Bend.

In contrast, the Snoqualmoos work on tribal business out of their homes, with no money, and the tribal council meets once a month in an Everett longshoremen's hall. Annual meetings on Whidbey Island attract from 20 to 100 people.

Tribal leaders hold such jobs as businessman, fisherman and truck driver and stay in contact by phone or e-mail. They pool money when members are low on cash.

Some members say they are satisfied with a low profile, occasional communication with other tribes, and hunting and fishing rights they say are theirs under the Point Elliott Treaty. But members are sometimes cited by state officials for hunting and fishing without a license, and the tribe must defend its rights in court. They say they've racked up two straight victories, including a case in Kittitas County this week.

For some members who used to belong to the Snoqualmie Tribe, the lack of recognition has been more difficult. Lauzon, now a Snoqualmoo sub-chief, helped lead the Snoqualmies' fight for recognition, but when the prize finally came, he couldn't enjoy it.

He says he regrets the split in the mid-1990s and would like to work with the Snoqualmies in some sort of relationship.

For the Snoqualmoo, federal recognition and money would bring vital improvements, such as housing for the elderly and better medical treatment, tribal leaders say. But whether that help comes or not, the tribe members remain connected.

"We're for real," Lauzon said. "We're all hanging together now."

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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