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News / Clark County News

Cowlitz Tribe reveals name for casino: ilani

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: June 20, 2016, 3:27pm
11 Photos
Tanna Engdahl, Cowlitz tribal spiritual leader, explained that the casino’s name ilani means sing in Cowlitz tribe. She said the name is a nod to the group’s long-standing culture with having a song for everything that is important to them.
Tanna Engdahl, Cowlitz tribal spiritual leader, explained that the casino’s name ilani means sing in Cowlitz tribe. She said the name is a nod to the group’s long-standing culture with having a song for everything that is important to them. (Natalie Behring for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

Cowlitz and Mohegan tribal leaders Monday revealed the name of their casino under construction west of La Center: ilani.

The casino resort, a $500 million project being developed by Salishan-Mohegan LLC in collaboration with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, takes its name from the Cowlitz word which means “sing.”

“There is a history and a journey that is represented in this one word, ilani,” said Tanna Engdahl, Cowlitz tribal spiritual leader. “It is a memory of the songs we sang throughout the centuries in the long journey to this time.”

She explained that the tribe has a strong history of having a song for everything that is important to its members.

"The Ilani Story," narrated by Tanna Engdahl, Cowlitz Tribe spiritual leader, and Roy Wilson, chief of the Cowlitz Tribe. Video

“We do not have a song for defeat, so we never learned how to give up,” she said.

Bill Iyall, Cowlitz tribal chairman, said that the partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut goes back more than a decade, but that the effort to establish land and an economic base for the Cowlitz people was a culmination of more than a century of effort. 

“We stand on our shoulders of our ancestors to carry this project forward to completion,” he said. “Our ancestors are here today.”

The 368,000-square-foot project is slated to open next spring. But the project’s path to completion hasn’t been a smooth one.

Construction on the facility was abuzz Monday despite an ongoing appeal in a lawsuit which contends the federal government wrongly approved a reservation for the Cowlitz Tribe. The Cowlitz prevailed in the case, but opponents appealed the ruling. A federal appeals court decision is expected this summer.

Other opposition has centered around an anticipated increase in traffic and crime and a disruption to the quiet rural character of north Clark County. Project officials say they understand the concerns but pointed to the casino’s location — on 152 acres right off the interstate and not embedded in neighborhoods.

Officials say that the project will also be accompanied by $32 million in privately funded improvements to the nearby Interstate 5 interchange. That will include widening lanes and adding a bike path and roundabout.

Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager for the project, said that she hopes the conversation around the project shifts to include the positive impacts the casino-resort will have on the area, including 1,000 new jobs.

She said that the two tribes came together to create “one of the most significant investments in Southwest Washington for years to come.”

The space will feature a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor with 2,500 slot-type machines, 60 high-limit machines, 75 gaming tables and five high-limit tables. The facility will also feature a 2,500-seat event space with plans to attract nationally recognized performers and a smaller 350-seat entertainment lounge intended to showcase more intimate and more regular performances.

Retailers and restaurants are also planned, though Fox-LaRose said that managers are still working to finalize which businesses will go into those planned spaces.

A hotel may be added at a later date.

“I think people will be impressed,” Fox-LaRose said. “It’s an economic engine. We’ll be investing $40 million-plus a year in products and services and 2 percent of the net profits from the casino will go to local arts and education programs.”

The project will be updated on the resort-casino’s website, ilaniresort.com.

The project managers of a casino under construction on Cowlitz land west of La Center released designs on Monday for the facility, named ilani.
The project managers of a casino under construction on Cowlitz land west of La Center released designs on Monday for the facility, named ilani. (Courtesy of ilani Casino Resort) Photo
The project managers of a casino under construction on Cowlitz land west of La Center released designs on Monday for the facility, named ilani.
The project managers of a casino under construction on Cowlitz land west of La Center released designs on Monday for the facility, named ilani. (Courtesy of ilani Casino Resort) Photo
Courtesy of ilani Casino Resort
Courtesy of ilani Casino Resort Photo
The project managers of a casino under construction on Cowlitz land west of La Center released designs on Monday for the facility, named ilani.
The project managers of a casino under construction on Cowlitz land west of La Center released designs on Monday for the facility, named ilani. (Courtesy of ilani Casino Resort) Photo
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Columbian Breaking News Reporter