The return of ilani


Casino, restaurants and shops reopen, but with safety measures in place

RIDGEFIELD — There are new safety measures in place, but ilani still has the same love for the community.

Guests await the ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the reopening of ilani on Thursday morning. Photo by Mike Schultz
Guests await the ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the reopening of ilani on Thursday morning. Photo by Mike Schultz

That was the message from tribal leaders and ilani administrators at a reopening ceremony Thursday morning in Ridgefield.

“Dear loved ones … I’m talking to you,” opened Tana Engdahl, spiritual leader for the Cowlitz Tribe, speaking to the gathering of guests outside of ilani. “We ask a blessing for each one of you because we are so happy to have you here to share and come to our house.

“Our house is your house.”

William B. Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and Kara Fox-LaRose, the president and general manager of ilani, also spoke at the ceremony.

William Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe, cuts a ribbon to reopen ilani. The center, which has gaming, restaurants, and shops, has been closed for 70 days. Photo by Mike Schultz
William Iyall, chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe, cuts a ribbon to reopen ilani. The center, which has gaming, restaurants, and shops, has been closed for 70 days. Photo by Mike Schultz

Iyall noted that ilani has been so successful in its three years of operation that the tribe was able to donate $750,000 to Covid relief projects. 

Fox-LaRose shared the biggest lesson she has learned through the pandemic. 

“To remind ourselves all to embrace the moment and offer one another grace when possible,” she said.

In its reopening, the gaming, restaurants, and shops will require social distancing and other safety measures. All employees and guests of ilani will be required to wear masks. All who enter also will have their temperatures scanned. Any person with a temperature of 100.2 degrees or higher will not be allowed in the facility.

Large events such as concerts remain postponed.

Inside the gaming area, every other seat at the slot machines has been removed, with those machines turned off to ensure proper distancing. See-through barriers have been set up at the table games to provide extra protection for players and dealers.

“The Cowlitz Tribe has remained committed to protecting the public’s health, and that remains our utmost priority,” Fox-LaRose said. 

Kara Fox-LaRose, the president and general manager of ilani, asked for patience and grace from guests as ilani put in safety measures to reopen the facility. Photo by Mike Schultz
Kara Fox-LaRose, the president and general manager of ilani, asked for patience and grace from guests as ilani put in safety measures to reopen the facility. Photo by Mike Schultz

Fox-LaRose understands that such measures might cause discomfort for some guests. 

“We ask for your patience and grace with our team, and we’re asking you to adhere to these practices. It’s in everybody’s best interest,” she said. 

The ceremony came to a close when Fox-LaRose, Engdahl, and Iyall cut the ribbon to reopen ilani. Confetti rained down on the guests waiting to enter.

“I love it,” said Dee Memering of Vancouver. “I’ve been here many times. Nice to be back. We want to reopen. We want our lives back.”

Guests at ilani must go through a line that will bring them to a temperature check through a scanning device. Photo by Mike Schultz
Guests at ilani must go through a line that will bring them to a temperature check through a scanning device. Photo by Mike Schultz

Her friend Judith Davis of Vancouver said she loves coming to ilani for the restaurants and the shops. 

“This is an asset for the community,” she said, noting she loves eating at Line and Lure and shopping at Marshall Rousso.

“I love all the people here. Everyone is so friendly,” Davis said.

The modifications at ilani will look different and bring a feeling of change. No one knows how long these modifications will be in effect.

Signage inside ilani will help guests find the many cleaning stations throughout the facility. Photo by Mike Schultz
Signage inside ilani will help guests find the many cleaning stations throughout the facility. Photo by Mike Schultz

Engdahl, Iyall, and Fox-LaRose reminded their guests that no matter the challenges, they are committed to keeping ilani a grand experience. 

“As you walk into those doors of ilani, I ask that you walk in with hope and gratitude as we move forward with the continued progress of finding our way back to a fulfilling life,” Fox-LaRose said. 

“We all know ‘ilani’ means, in the Cowlitz language, to sing. This is a call to action to celebrate. In our world, ilani takes on a new meaning today. Celebrate with us. Celebrate the progress you all made as individuals with all the sacrifices you’ve made in the last 70 days since we closed.”

About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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