The Ilani Casino Resort is just weeks away from opening near La Center, Washington. This is something of a personal triumph for Bill Iyall, chairman of the tribe Cowlitz Indian Tribe, whose ancestors fought for Indian rights, and helped earn Native Americans the right to vote in 1924.
For many years: “The main topic was when do we get our land,” he told The Columbian. It was poetic justice that Iyall was chairman when the Bureau of Indian Affairs put land into trust for the tribe near La Center.
Iyall’s great-great-grandfather was dubbed the Chief of Chiefs and was very powerful in the Puget Sound area. His grandfather was photographed with President Calvin Coolidge when he signed the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
Iyall puts it this way, “Our family has always been one to step up and do what needs to be done to make sure something can be done to preserve the tribe and protect the greater interests of the tribe.”
In 2000 the tribe was given federal recognition, something that it needed to defend in federal court. More court battles followed before the tribe was approved to build a casino along Interstate near la Center.
The $510 million casino is due to open in April. It will have 368,000 square feet with gaming, meeting rooms, 15 restaurants, lounges and shops.
“Our heritage was basically stolen from our ancestors,” he told the Columbian. “Now, we have a chance to return some of that back to our tribal members.”
He added, “The federal government is obligated to take care of housing, educational and health needs for Native Americans, and they’ve always underfunded it by a factor of about 20. By taking our revenues, we can allocate those services out of that profit.” They hope to pay for every member’s college education. There are 4,400 members and almost half are of college age.
Health care and senior housing are also on the agenda for use of casino funds.