Dispute seals Snoqualmie Tribe offices

Locks and heavy chains sealed the administrative offices of the Snoquamie Tribe, and the tribe’s retail store, Paddle, in downtown Snoqualmie last week after a dispute between rival halves of the tribal council paralyzed the tribe’s government.

Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson told the Record that he ordered the offices closed Monday, Aug. 30, three days after the elders of the tribe called for the tribal council to be dissolved and new elections held. Mattson said he was receiving conflicting resolutions from competing quorums of the council, and made the decision after consulting legal counsel for the tribe and the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The nine-member council includes alternates that allow it to form multiple quorums, or majority votes.

Tribal services continue to function, and Snoqualmie Casino remains open.

The current struggles stems from a disputed election in May. According to Mattson, the vote saw three positions on the council change: one voting member, one alternate and the sitting tribal chairman. One of the candidates challenged the election results, and the recently created tribal court upheld the challenge, but is still trying to determine its authority over the council.

A mediator from the Bureau of Indian Affairs meets this week with the rival council members to sort out the dispute.

Mediation could take days — or weeks, Mattson said.

“It’s going to take a little time, given the level of emotion, the hard feelings on each side,” he said.

The mediator will then make his recommendation to the BIA.

“The tribe has a choice to follow that or not,” Mattson said. “The council that is recognized by the U.S. government — that will be the government I will take direction from. I’m saying ‘Tell me who I report to.’”

Stakes are high in tribal elections because changes in the makeup of the council affect the relative power of the tribe’s five major families. And, while the tribe has only had an official government for 10 years, the level of complexity in its governance is growing exponentially.

“This is a formative moment in the development and maturation of the legal system and form of government,” Mattson said. “In the end, I think the tribe will be stronger.”

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