Although most of my life has been spent in Oregon, not until Saturday May 14 did I ever cross the border to Idaho. Although I’d been to Pendleton in the east several times, Idaho was just a tad to far away. But no more.
I am in Idaho for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians spring conference. My first year on Council I went to ATNI every time, traveling to Polson, Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Portland, and Tacoma hosted by the Puyallups. Too much of the conference might explain my burnout and avoidance of it for the next five years until we hosted it at Spirit Mountain Casino in May of last year. But this time I am reminded of what made it so attractive in the first place, a combination of networking opportunities and the chance to catch up with fellow Tribal leaders, all of who are dealing with challenges both unique and familiar, if such a thing is possible.
Given that the conference is often held either close to or at a gaming facility, one shouldn’t be surprised to see many conference attendees camped out at slot machines after the day’s business is officially over. I rarely gamble, being far too familiar with the odds, but like scoping out another Tribe’s property to compare how Spirit Mountain rates.
Coeur d’Alene’s casino is like some sort of hybrid between a 1990’s facility and what I guess has to be pure originality. At present they are undergoing an expansion, thus the construction equipment and areas being renovated are more like eyesores right now, but one doesn’t need a vivid imagination to see that the end result will likely be very impressive. I am not familiar with architecture or the lingo, but the words modern and beautifully simple spring to mind. It doesn’t take long to notice there is an emphasis on natural light, as in some areas the “walls” are enormous windows from ceiling to floor. I’ve always been fond of natural lighting.
The CEO of the property spoke to the conference on the first morning. We wanted people to see something new, he explained about the expansion, something they’d never seen elsewhere. Hence the glass walls, the strategy of using only native plants as part of the landscaping, and “real” materials, by which I assume he meant for example some of the plank dividers at the steakhouse. In their most impressive bar, called “The Gathering Place”, there are a dozen digital photo displays with ever-changing images ranging from close-ups of regalia and beads to vistas of traditional Coeur d’Alene lands. As is explained to us, the casino hired a photographer who camped out at many of these areas to gather thousands of perfect shots.
Being a food-lover, it would be wrong for me to not mention the food, and the level of culinary artistry that goes into their menus. The tables at the steakhouse feature three types on salt, one variety that reminds me of some Tibetan kind I saw at World Market. They’ve several types of burgers, ranging from ground duck, to lamb, to Kobe beef. The condiments are creative, like oxtail marmalade or foie gras aioli. Most ingredients are locally produced. Impressive to say the least.
The facility can go a long way to determining a successful conference, and right now they are playing nearly everything just right. As for the conference itself, I’ve enjoyed myself quite a bit, though this is just the second day. As is typical, the agenda is often strayed from, but nobody seems to mind.
I’ve learned that one Tribal in Washington state has five Council members with the same first name, Brian. The best way to differentiate them is probably by their cedar hats. There have also been some technical difficulties, one leading them to duct-tape a microphone, which makes for some jokes.
I am glad to see that yet another former Hatfield Fellow has gone on to big things: Dennis Worden heads up the Native American Contractors Association. I also cannot help but notice that laptops and iPads have quickly replaced notepads, a huge contrast to that first one I attended years ago in Montana.
During one of the committee meetings I explained to other Tribes what we had to deal with regarding Measure 75 last year, which generated quite a few questions, like what was our strategy, how close was the vote, what will happen next? And that committee produced the most awkward moment when a Cowlitz Tribal Council member related the challenges they were dealing with, and after being asked who was contesting their La Center project he had to answer “Grand Ronde”, which lead to one of those situations where suddenly everybody fixed their gazes at me unsure of what to say.
There seems to be a basketball theme going on, as Mark Few, Head Coach of the Gonzaga University Bulldogs stopped in to speak over a protein-packed (chicken, salmon, pork ribs and an entire roasted pig) lunch today. His speech, or interview rather as he shared the stage with a Coeur d’Alene member who asked him questions, struck me as like that of a motivational speaker (“Surround yourself with good people”, “Put the team first”). Tomorrow’s luncheon will feature Schoni Schimmel, a young Umatilla girl with what must be otherworldly basketball skills. She is presently playing for the University of Louisville and is already the subject of a documentary “Off the Rez”. She will also be playing an exhibition game tomorrow with local Tribal youth matched up against-and no I’m not kidding-Tribal leaders from the conference who volunteered to play.
That does not include me.