The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is home.
With plenty of cheers, and some tears, Cowlitz members celebrated the recent groundbreaking on their $510 million casino-resort and the tribe’s future at a ceremony Sunday. The steel skeleton of the structure already is taking shape near La Center, but the tribe waited until Valentine’s Day to mark the milestone.
Sixteen years ago on Feb. 14, the tribe received recognition from the federal government, said Roy Wilson, a spiritual leader of the Cowlitz Tribe. In 2010 came another victory: the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved an application to take 152 acres of land west of La Center into trust for a new Cowlitz reservation. The Cowlitz then were locked in a legal battle to build a casino on the property, where the tribe said its ancestors had ties.
“I can’t find the words to express what I am feeling inside,” Wilson said. “We have just begun a great journey. … We came a long, long way, and we have a great future ahead of us.”
The ceremony began with members of the tribe drumming and singing their honor song, which includes the words: “The land of the Cowlitz is calling for me. … Come back to the Cowlitz. The Cowlitz is home.”
The celebration drew roughly 500 people, who gathered under a giant tent as rain fell. In the crowd were representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray; past and current state legislators and city officials; former Clark County commissioners; Clark County Fire & Rescue commissioners; people who live near the casino site; and leaders of the Cowlitz Tribe and the Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribe of Indians. The Mohegan Tribe has teamed with the Cowlitz on the casino project, guiding the Cowlitz through the process.