The Columbian was told by tribal leaders that while they plan to hire many residents from the local community to fill positions at the facility, members of the tribe would get first priority.
Kelso-based Ethnic Support Council member and part of the Cherokee and Oneida tribes of Oklahoma, Tracie Driver, said friends of hers that live as far away as North Carolina are planning to apply for positions at the Cowlitz casino. Driver said she expects the Native American population in Cowlitz County to increase due to the cost of housing being much lower than they are in Clark County and Vancouver.
With unemployment levels being what they are in Cowlitz County, in the 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent range, job opportunities are needed. Dave Barnett, who launched the casino project and is a member of the Cowlitz tribe, said “Our goal is to hire within our tribe and within the community.” While preference for jobs at the La Center-area casino will be given to members of the Cowlitz tribe who are qualified, Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall said that he expects most of the employee pool to come from the surrounding area. Iyall said that tribal members may not be in the position to relocate there for employment because the tribe has been scattered and their families have established homes in other towns. Barnett said that most of the Cowlitz members who may be interested in positions at the new casino live within a few hours of the reservation.
Iyall said that it’s not yet clear just how much the casino jobs will pay, but that they will pay a living wage and full benefits will be included. According to the facility’s website, the casino is slated to open in “late spring 2017.” The tribe also has plans to build a hotel in the future and hire even more people.
According to the Washington State Gambling Commission, there are 28 tribal casinos in the state owned by 22 tribes. In order to operate their own casinos, tribes must first get federal recognition and after years of struggle in 2002, the Cowlitz Tribe received its recognition. The tribe currently has about 3,900 members, most of who are centered around the Puget Sound area; well outside the ancestral area of the tribe in Cowlitz, Lewis, and north Clark counties.