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Ilani opens up newly expanded area, Cowlitz tribe celebrates historical moment

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The massive Ilani Casino just got bigger.

On Thursday, the casino opened its huge Meeting and Entertainment Center, marking the conclusion of a year-long expansion.

The expanded area takes up 30,000 square feet. It includes a pre-function space with views, outdoor areas for events and a ballroom.

“It is configurable 30 different ways, and so we really can scale the room down to handle smaller meetings and open the room up for conventions and trade shows,” Kara Fox-LaRose, the president and general manager of Ilani, said. “This expansion offers lots of opportunity for you know, really a prosperous future for the tribe.”

The unveiling was glamorous, elegant, and in many ways, beautiful.

This casino sits on a Cowlitz reservation. To the tribe, the land is a sign of strength, power, and persistence. It took them 27 years to get federal acknowledgement as a recognized tribe. It’s also, in some ways, a sign of growth.

“At one time we were 50,00 strong,” Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, a Cowlitz Tribal Council Woman, said. “[We] went way down in numbers, and now were back to over 4,000 in the tribe right now.”

Kinswa-Gaiser also added, the casino has helped them educate. “We can pay people to go to college. We give them $11,000 a year. Where back in the 70s we were able to give them $125.”

The casino is a dream dreamt up many years ago. It took decades to become a reality, but on Thursday, the tribe celebrated something else that took even longer to accomplish, raising their flag.

“It puts our legal stamp, so to speak, on this ground," Kinswa-Gaiser said.

It was a historic moment, and one that couldn’t be celebrated without admiring the ancestors who persisted before them.


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