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.
“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.