The event, it seems, was meaningful. So, too, is the impact of ilani on the people of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the surrounding community.
On Monday, ilani officials and tribal members celebrated the fifth anniversary of the casino near La Center. They did so with a ceremonial placing of the final beam atop a 14-story hotel that is under construction.
The glass-enclosed hotel will join other construction projects from the past five years — a six-story parking garage, a 2,500-seat events center, a convenience store and a gas station with, The Columbian reports, “some of the lowest gas prices in Southwest Washington.” Inside the 386,000-square-foot casino, two new restaurants, a video wall and additional gaming stations have been added.
“This is a very momentous day for us,” Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, vice chair for the Cowlitz Tribe, said in celebration of the anniversary and construction of the hotel, which is expected to open next year.
Tanna Engdahl, spiritual leader for the tribe, said: “We have a long history on this land. This is one of the greatest events for us, because now our land goes toward the sky. Our high, long house is going to be there to meet the eagles.”
The significance of the casino for the Cowlitz people cannot be overstated. And it leads to reflection about the impact of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Native American tribes are sovereign nations, meaning that states have limited ability to regulate or prevent tribal casinos. Since Congress passed legislation more than 30 years ago, tribes across the country have recognized gambling as a revenue source. In Washington, 22 tribes operate 29 casinos.
Few of those are as fortunate as the Cowlitz, who have a casino along a busy interstate within easy reach of a major metropolitan area. But the impact of Native American gaming has been transformative for tribes large and small.
In a 2017 documentary by Oregon Public Broadcasting titled “Broken Treaties,” the chief of a tribe in Oregon says: “Tribes have been able to enter into a socio-economic environment where they have brought something to the table. This is probably the first time the tribes have had the opportunity to have a place in the marketplace.
“That gets you invited to the Chamber of Commerce banquet. That gets you involved with the Rotary luncheon. That gets you involved and it gets you invited and it gets you on boards, and all of a sudden you begin to learn the rest of the world. That revenue builds the capacity of the community.”
It builds the surrounding community, as well. The Cowlitz recently donated a $700,000 fire engine that will serve the La Center area, including ilani.
That is the reality that underlies ilani’s anniversary and rising hotel. That is the reason tribal members spent decades seeking federal recognition and designation of their reservation near Interstate 5 to build the casino.
The Columbian editorially opposed the casino while the Cowlitz sought that approval. But as the project neared completion, we wrote: “With cooperation from local governments and local residents, the ilani Casino Resort can be a net positive for Clark County. It is time to make the casino work for all of us.”
That has been the mission for five years now, with ilani contributing to the local economy and enhancing the profile of Clark County. Residents of north Clark County might find fault with increased traffic and the bustle that comes with development. But, overall, the casino is something worth celebrating.