April 2017

Native American casinos bring cultural legacies to life

by Jeff Heilman

  • Inn of the Mountain Gods

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0417/Feature_Native_Ceremonial dance CREDIT Inn of the Mountain Gods.jpg

    Inn of the Mountain Gods

    Inn of the Mountain Gods
  • Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0417/Feature_Native_Glass Hall Way Fancy Dancers_Coeur_dAlene.jpg

    Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel

    Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel
  • Pechanga Resort and Casino

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0417/Feature_Native_Three story stained glass Great Oak tree at the Pechanga Round Bar.jpg

    Pechanga Resort and Casino

    Pechanga Resort and Casino

In common with Australia, Canada and other lands inhabited by indigenous peoples since ancient times, the U.S. bears the lasting scar, or more accurately, unhealed wound, of the government-led colonization and lasting marginalization of Native Americans.

Tribes driven from their lands via the notorious 1830 Indian Removal Act (“The Trail of Tears”) would later suffer the unrestricted plundering of their cultural artifacts, gravesites and sacred objects by museums and other “collectors” through the egregious Antiquities Act of 1906 (partially remediated by the 1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act).

Starting in the 1960s, one form of recovery for tribal communities was the crafting of museums into venues for preserving and teaching their history and traditions.

That trend has since reached Native American gaming resorts. While some tribes shy away from cultural showcases within gaming and leisure environments, others have embraced the opportunity to integrate their culture and heritage into areas including resort architecture and design, displays of native art, food and beverage, guided experiences, wellness, learning activities and service and hospitality.

Offering uniquely inspiring, spiritual and even transformative experiences for groups, Native American heritage and hospitality awaits at these leading Western casino-resorts and reservations.

The Wisdom of Trees
Opened as a casino in 1995 by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Pechanga Resort and Casino is a major economic driver in California’s Temecula Valley and Inland Empire region.

“Starting out in temporary facilities with only 135 employees, our founding vision for the center was simple,” said Edith Atwood, president of the Pechanga Development Corporation and a Pechanga Tribal Member. “Namely, to create jobs for our community and to generate revenues for fundamental programs like reliable drinking water, basic healthcare, education and cultural protection.”

Adding a resort component in 2002, the AAA Four Diamond property, 90 miles from Los Angeles and 60 miles from San Diego, today employs more than 4,000 Californians and delivers $1.1 billion in total economic impact.

That contribution will only rise with the anticipated late 2017 completion of Pechanga’s $285 million expansion.

Adding a new 568-room hotel wing, two-story luxury spa, four-acre, resort-style pool complex, two new restaurants, 70,000 square feet of additional convention space—and nearly 1,000 additional jobs—the casino-resort, already California’s largest, will offer 1,090 new and renovated rooms, 100,000 square feet of indoor and 174,500 square feet of outdoor space, 13 restaurants and 13 pools. The project incorporates a complete rebranding, including a new logo.

Within this amenity-rich setting, which includes a 200,000-square-foot gaming floor, larger than any in Las Vegas, the Pechanga story comes vibrantly alive, as Atwood explained.

“The Temecula Valley has been home to my ancestors for over 10,000 years, since time immemorial,” she said. “While our reservation is currently less than 8,000 acres with under 2,000 members, we continue to grow, proud of having the largest Tribe since losing 90 percent of our population and territory land base during the dark days of the European colonization, Spanish Mission period and 1850s Gold Rush.”

In times of drought and scarcity, the Pechanga people relied on their oak trees for protein-rich “wi-wiish,” or crushed acorn meal.

“Symbolizing life in our culture, our oaks include the 1,500-plus year old ‘Wi’áasal,’ or Great Oak,” Atwood said. “We cherish this sacred tree, the largest indigenous coast live oak in the West, for representing the Tribe’s strength, wisdom, longevity, and determination.”

Exclusive visits to the Great Oak can be arranged, guided by Tribal cultural experts and including Pechanga history lessons. The tree is also celebrated in the three-story stained glass tower at the Pechanga Round Bar and in stained glass over the table games. Other cultural homages include woven baskets, clay pots and river images, with Kiicha huts (meaning “home”) and native flora adorning the property and Journey at Pechanga golf course.

Peak Performers
Groups arriving at Mescalero Apache Tribe-owned Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino in mountainous Mescalero, N.M., are greeted by a massive metal sculpture, “Mountain God Spirits,” or “Gehe,” in Apache, by the late Frederick Peso, grandson of an Apache chief.

Continuing the impressive welcome at the award-winning resort, which offers 273 luxurious guest rooms and suites, 40,000 square feet of technologically advanced convention space with theater-style seating for up to 3,000 delegates, championship golf, outdoor pursuits and more, is the Apache-art filled lobby. Setting the stage for inspiration, floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views of the Tribe’s sacred mountain, Sierra Blanca Peak, and Lake Mescalero.

Consisting of the Mescalero, Lipan and Chiricahua sub-tribes, the once nomadic Mescalero Apache Tribe today resides on a 463,000-acre reservation in the heartland of its aboriginal homelands, with other enterprises including Ski Apache Ski Resort.

Featuring tribal-inspired contemporary accents of turquoise, blue and green in the guest rooms, tribal influences extend to dining establishments such as Wendell’s Lounge, named for Wendell Chino, the longtime Mescalero Apache Nation president who helped lift the tribe from poverty.

Another mountain-backed retreat beckons some 25 miles north of Albuquerque International Airport at the Pueblo of Santa Ana’s luxurious Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa. With 350 pueblo-style guest rooms, the 500-acre property offers 29,000 square feet of indoor space and 25,000 square feet of outdoor space. With views of the surrounding cottonwood forest and Sandia Mountains, venues include the House of the Hummingbird, its spacious lawn enclosed by replica ancient pueblo ruins.

Originally the Tamayame, the Santa Ana people have lived in New Mexico since at least the 1500s. Assigned the patron saint of Saint Anne and renamed as Santa Ana during Spanish rule in 1598, the tribe settled in the fertile Rio Grande Valley. Today, 800-plus tribal members live on the 79,000-acre Tamaya Indian Reservation, many speaking the tribe’s original Keresan language.

The Santa Ana Pueblo created the partnership with Hyatt as an immersive showcase of their ancient culture and traditions. The tribe-led “Srai Wi” cultural program includes bread baking in a huruna oven, adobe brick making, jewelry-making classes with a Navajo silversmith, and tours of the onsite Tamaya Cultural Learning Center, which features a full retrospective of the tribe’s history.

Paintings, photography, pottery and other works from renowned Native American artists adorn the property, where guests are greeted by a large bronze statue representing traditional Tamayame principles of welcome.

Honoring the Pueblo’s oral history tradition, the resort also features renowned Native American storyteller Emmitt Garcia. Other unique experiences include traditional dance and flute performances, exploring petroglyphs on horseback, and golfing through 20 ancient cultural sites.

Incorporating local spices, oils and mud, Native American-inspired treatments at the resort’s Tamaya Mist Spa include “Ancient Drumming” and “Spirit Path.”

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