The Cowlitz Tribe announced Monday that Bill Iyall has stepped down from his role as general council chairman and chief operating officer, effective Aug. 17.
In a letter posted on the tribe’s website, Iyall wrote that his departure would allow him to focus on his health and his family at home for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic. Iyall had initially announced his retirement plans in early August, citing the pandemic as a major factor in his decision.
“At the age of 73, after working for nearly 60 years, it is time for me to begin a new chapter in my life,” he wrote in the Monday letter. “I have worked ceaselessly six to seven days a week as your chairman for more than 12 years.”
Iyall began serving as a Cowlitz Tribal Council member in 1993. He was elected to the position of Cowlitz General Council vice chair in 2006 and then chairman in 2008, a position to which he was re-elected four times. He was also appointed vice chair of the Cowlitz Tribal Gaming Authority when it was created in 2006.
Iyall played an instrumental role in the creation of ilani, the flagship casino resort that opened in 2017 on tribal land near Ridgefield, putting the Cowlitz Tribe on the map in the Pacific Northwest tribal casino industry.
He led the creation of the tribe’s Gaming Committee in 1994 and served as its chairman until 2016, and he was one of several tribal leaders who worked to secure the land for ilani and form a partnership with the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority to build the casino.
In his letter, Iyall reflected on his involvement with ilani and a number of other related projects, such as the Cowlitz Crossing gas station and convenience store, the expanded Interstate 5 interchange near ilani and the future ilani parking garage, which is currently under construction.
Iyall noted that his tenure has also seen a substantial expansion of the tribe’s government staff, from 62 employees in 2008 to 370 at present, and an expansion of the services offered to Cowlitz Tribe members.
Iyall will continue to serve as the vice chair of the Cowlitz Tribal Gaming Authority, according to his letter.
Phillip Harju, formerly the Cowlitz tribal counsel and vice chair of the council, was sworn in as the new chairman and chief operating officer on Aug. 17. In an introductory letter and video posted on the tribe’s website, Harju stated that he had resigned his position as the tribe’s general counsel in order to focus full time on his duties as chairman.
Harju has served on the tribal council since 2004 and as the vice chair since 2008. He will serve out the remainder of Iyall’s term as chair, which runs through June 2021.