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


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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