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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: ilani a rising tide that lifts all boats

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: March 12, 2023, 6:02am

It all comes back to the quote.

In discussions regarding the impact of Native American casinos, or the relationship between ilani and nearby towns, or changes in north Clark County … it all comes back to the quote. At least in my mind, it does.

You see, in 2017, when Oregon Public Broadcasting produced a documentary about Native Americans in the region, they included a segment about casinos and they interviewed Chief Donald Ivy of the Coquille Indian Tribe in Southern Oregon. Ivy died in 2020, but something he said regarding casinos still resonates today:

“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.”

You might or might not have any interest in attending the Chamber of Commerce banquet or the Rotary luncheon. But when your people have been excluded for generations just because they are your people, these things take on added meaning.

It’s one thing to know you could go in but choose not to. It’s quite another to know you are not welcome because your community has not accumulated the clout or the wealth or the cachet to be invited.

So when a Columbian article looks at the relationship between ilani and nearby cities, and when Cowlitz Tribe leader Patty Kinswa-Gaiser says she meets regularly with local mayors, I think of Donald Ivy and the quote.

“From when we did the groundbreaking for the original casino, the tribe has joined with the community,” Kinswa-Gaiser told Columbian reporter Shari Phiel. “We’ve made positive reinforcement with the community that wasn’t there before. I work with and meet with the Ridgefield mayor and La Center mayor … and we have a good working relationship.”

Of course, Kinswa-Gaiser is going to paint a rosy picture; public relations is part of her job. But the Cowlitz have used some of the transformational wealth provided by the casino on charitable community-enhancing donations. (That includes a pledge of $120,000 over three years to the Local Media Foundation to support a reporter at The Columbian.)

And while the Cowlitz’s new prominence in the community is a reminder of Ivy’s quote about casinos, it also belies the notion of zero-sum politics that too often divides our communities.

You know about zero-sum politics, even if you’ve never heard the term. It’s the idea that if somebody (“them”) benefits from something, somebody else (“me”) is being left behind. And we all buy into it to one extent or another.

As an academic paper out of Harvard University explained last month: “We find that a more zero-sum mindset is strongly associated with more support for government redistribution, less support for immigration, and more support for race- and gender-based affirmative action.”

You’ll notice that several popular wedge issues are included in that description. And you’ll notice that far too many politicians are content to use those issues as dividing lines rather than trying to solve the underlying conflicts.

But that is a column for another time.

Instead, suffice it to say that while ilani has been transformational for the Cowlitz since the casino opened in 2017, it also has had benefits for local municipalities — such as the tribes’ purchase of vehicles for local first responders. There also have been drawbacks, the kind that come with accelerated growth, but by most accounts the local communities are managing them.

In other words, the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats appears to be more powerful than the idea there can be only one winner. And I’m guessing Donald Ivy would have something insightful to say about that.