MISSION — For a good portion of Tuesday, the eyes of the state were trained on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
The Wildhorse Resort and Casino hosted the state’s annual Tribal-State Government-to-Government Summit, which not only brought together representatives from all of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, but also some of the top officials in state government.
Attendees included Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Bev Clarno, Treasurer Tobias Read, and Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle. Brown told the audience in attendance that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum was sick and couldn’t attend). Attendees listened as panels discussed issues that revolved around the summit’s theme: “Opportunity in the next decade.”
In a panel on tribal gaming, Wildhorse CEO Gary George said the future of the facility had more to do with the resort than the casino.
George said the state’s gaming market has reached a saturation point, with tribal share of gaming revenue actually falling over the previous few decades.
Although Wildhorse is exploring new gaming opportunities, like online gambling and sports betting, George said the facility’s multimillion dollar expansion isn’t going toward expanding the casino floor.
Instead, Wildhorse is looking to expand its entertainment center to include a bowling alley and other amenities by September 2020, and add another hotel tower and event center by 2022.
“That entertainment dollar, that’s what we’re going for,” he said.
George said Wildhorse did its due diligence before embarking on the bowling alley expansion. While a bowling alley by itself was likely to fail, Wildhorse’s research showed that a bowling alley that was included as a part of a resort could be successful.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation wasn’t the only tribe trying to diversify its enterprises.
Travis Hill, the director of hospitality operations for the Umpqua Indian Development Corporation, said the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians spent the past year investing in a heavy equipment company and starting their own hemp farm.
But economic development wasn’t the only pressing issue for tribal leaders.
During an introductory panel, tribal chairmen and councilors shared concerns over salmon preservation, climate change, tribal behavioral services and the preservation of tribal traditions and rights.
One way the state is trying to help out with the latter issue is through Senate Bill 12, a law passed in 2017 that requires school districts to teach lessons on tribal culture and history.
All nine tribes were asked to participate in creating their own curriculums, a process that includes the CTUIR.
April Campbell, an Indian education advisor for the Oregon Department of Education, said the state was organizing a training for later this month to develop 90 trainers to teach the new curriculum to local educators.
Multiple members of the panel mentioned the country’s dark history of tribal education, whether it was through boarding schools or suppression of cultural language and expression.
Shadiin Garcia, the executive director of the Educator Advancement Council, said it was a large issue with deeper cultural implications for the state’s education system.
“We’re trying to undo 500 years of erasure and colonization,” she said.