For the first time in 165 years, the Snoqualmie Tribe has regained possession of some of its most sacred lands – including an iconic waterfall you might recognize from the 1990 television series Twin Peaks. The Muckleshoot tribe, which purchased the property in 2007, is selling the falls and surrounding property to the Snoqualmie tribe that once called this place home. 

A beautiful waterfall pours into a bright blue pool.
Snoqualmie Falls in Washington State, USA © Peerasith Patrick Triratpadoongphol / Shutterstock

The acquisition won’t affect your vacation plans to the popular Salish Lodge that sits atop the falls, but it could block future developments, and even shake things up for utilities like Puget Sound Energy. Snoqualmie Falls sees some million and a half visitors each year, thanks to a blend of natural beauty, proximity to Seattle, Washington and the scenic convenience of the Salish Lodge and Spa. It’s also been the site of two historic hydroelectric plants since the turn of the last century that continue to generate power for the region. 

Long before modern development came to Snoqualmie, this place was revered by the indigenous tribe of the same name as the place central to their origin myths and identity as a people, as well as their sacred burial ground. According to the Snoqualmie tribal website, “We used to have more than 90 longhouses along the Snoqualmie River and its tributaries – the highways used to travel from village to village.”

In 1855,  however, the Snoqualmie lost all their lands when, together with several other Coast Salish nations, they signed the Point Elliot Treaty ceding their territory to the United States government. Without land or an official reservation, the Snoqualmie tribe eventually lost federal recognition in the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1999 that they were able to regain tribal status, and eight years later made its first real estate purchase to begin re-acquiring former Snoqualmie territory. 

A waterfall rushes with a lush green background.
Snoqualmie Falls © Richard A McMillin / Shutterstock

In 2007 the Muckleshoot tribe bought Snoqualmie Falls, the Salish Lodge, and surrounding acreage, intending to further develop the property. The Snoqualmie tribe pushed back, calling for increased protections to preserve a place that has remained intensely meaningful despite a century of disenfranchisement. Part of what makes this new land deal so meaningful is that the Muckleshoot are formally recognizing the significance of this place to the Snoqualmie tribe and supporting the restoration of sacred lands to their original inhabitants.

As Muckleshoot Tribal Chairman Jaison Elkins noted in the sale’s official press release, “It is a great feeling when Tribes can come together to further enhance both of their organizations. Salish Lodge is a premier resort in the Pacific Northwest. Knowing that its ownership will remain local with our neighbor Tribe is a positive for the region and all Indian Country. This sale is a prime example of Indian Self Determination and how Tribal nations can conduct business in a culturally sensitive way.”

That spirit of collaboration and self-determination is a far cry from when the Salish Lodge was first built. As Snoqualmie tribal vice-chairman Michael Ross explained to Newsweek, when the lodge was first built almost a hundred years ago, no people of color – including indigenous tribal elders – were allowed on the premises. Now a new generation of tribal leaders will continue welcoming thousands of tourists from around the world while emphasizing cultural and environmental sensitivity.

In fact, the deal may pave the way for Snoqualmie Falls to become even more scenic than in previous decades. For over a century, water has been diverted from the falls into underground hydroelectric turbines. That’s been good news for regional utilities, but the reduced flow – and reduced mist thrown by the falls – has been a blow to the Snoqualmie tribe’s spiritual beliefs. 

As Ross told local news outlet KUOW, “The reason why more spill is important to us is that our belief is that the mist from the falls is what transcends our prayers to the heavens, to the creator. It’s what heals us. And so, when there’s no flow, there’s no mist, and therefore it affects our religious practices.”

Indigenous rights, including land reclamation and usage, have been gaining fresh visibility and traction around the world in recent years. Most recently, the Anangu in Australia had a major victory when climbing was banned at Uluru after decades of tension between outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, and aboriginal peoples. Now the Snoqualmie land deal is another step forward for Indigenous peoples seeking to regain sovereignty over their sacred sites and traditional homelands, and have a say in how these places are enjoyed by tourists.

Read more: Welcome to Twin Peaks: a guide to locations of the cult classic 

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