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Seven Feathers Casino Resort reaches 25 years | Canyonville

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Seven Feathers Casino Resort reaches 25 years | Canyonville

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part series on the Seven Feathers Casino Resort

In the 1850s, following the Rogue River Indian Wars, many of Oregon’s Native American tribes were removed to reservations.

The members of the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe, however, remained in Douglas County, where seven surviving families kept their heritage alive. Nevertheless, in 1954 they, along with all the Western Oregon tribes, were told that as far as the federal government was concerned their tribe did not exist.

It was news to them.

Today, the tribe boasts more than 1,000 members — descendants of those seven families — and owns a successful casino that has become a destination resort for more than 1 million people each year. This year marks the tribe’s 35th anniversary since it won recognition from the federal government, and the 25th anniversary of the Seven Feathers Casino Resort.

The tribe’s gambling venture began modestly in 1992, when it built the Cow Creek Bingo Hall. Bingo games are still played there, but you’d be forgiven for missing that fact amidst the glitz and glamour of the Vegas-style casino and resort that’s replaced it. The 24-hour casino features hundreds of slot machines, table games like baccarat, roulette and craps, live poker and Keno. The resort also features a 300-room hotel, bars, an art gallery, a spa, multiple restaurants and a convention center, as well as a large RV park.

The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe’s heritage comes from seven women who married trappers and gold miners who moved into the Umpqua Valley. Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe CEO Michael Rondeau said two of the seven families carried his surname. The Rondeaus were French Canadian trappers who came to the area with the North West Company.

“They had influence because they married into the tribes,” he said.

They were large, Catholic, multi-cultural families. Tribes intermarried, so many Cow Creek tribal members are descended from multiple tribes. Rondeau said his father recalled growing up with his grandparents, who spoke three languages — French, English and Chinook jargon (a trade language).

Rondeau learned from a scholar studying the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe’s Takelma language that one of the things his father always did — giving away venison or salmon to visitors as they were leaving — was an ancient tribal custom.

“I even remember asking my Dad why did we do that, and he goes, ‘I don’t know. We just did it when I was growing up,’” he said.

Rondeau said he was in high school when the tribe was recognized in 1982. His grandfather and a beloved great aunt never got to see it.

“They knew who they were. They were born and raised in the Umpqua Valley. They were known to be native, but they never had the protections or the human decency of knowing they were federally recognized,” he said.

Tribal members went through a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where they are today. That’s what Rondeau hopes to convey to the younger generation.

“The generations that are coming along now don’t know firsthand the sufferings that went on and the dedication and the miracle it is to have recognition,” he said.

When the tribe was finally recognized by an act of Congress, it received a $1.5 million settlement for the loss of its land. The tribe today is the only recognized group without a reservation, but it purchased its own land using the settlement as collateral, and it has since developed businesses that make it one of the state’s wealthiest tribes.

Rondeau said tribal leaders were interested in starting a business after they received recognition in the 1980s. So they acquired property in 1985 from Isabella Gruntz that had formerly been the Evergreen Motel in Canyonville, and placed it into trust. They considered a number of possibilities for business there, from firewood sales to growing shiitake mushrooms.

At that time Bingo was popular at many reservations across the country, but not in Oregon. In 1992, the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe became the first in the state to open a Bingo center. They had to borrow money to put in the cash register, and they couldn’t afford to pay the landscaper to finish work.

“Those of us who worked for the tribe actually put our boots on and went down and finished laying sod. We were right down to the wire for opening day,” he said.

Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe Board Member Robert Van Norman said he and his wife went down to play at the Bingo Hall after it opened up, and he was surprised at how popular it was.

“It’s something that I never realized was going to take off the way it did,” Van Norman said.

The original loan was paid off in under three years.The casino grew bit by bit. Thirty six slot machines were added to a room off the Bingo Hall, and they proved lucrative. A major expansion took place in 1996, when the tribe completed the hotel, quadrupled the size of the casino and built a gift shop, convention center and restaurant. A year later the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved an agreement between Oregon and the tribe that paved the way for the tribe to offer more serious casino games like roulette. As part of the deal, the tribe agreed to share 6 percent of casino profits with nonprofit organizations in the area.

In 2001, another 17,000 square feet were added to bring the whole complex to 80,000 square feet. A new sports bar, poker room and additional slot machines were added. In 2005, plans were announced to expand the facility’s 32-space RV park to 194 spaces. The following year, plans were announced to expand the hotel from 140 rooms to 300 because the staff was having to turn away people looking to reserve rooms. Today, the facility is about 240,000 square feet.

The original building was a quonset hut that is now the casino’s warehouse, and the casino was built up over the top of it, Rondeau said.

The tribe doesn’t divulge how much money the casino brings in, but it provides hundreds of jobs, and the revenues contribute to health care, education and housing expenses the tribe, as a sovereign government, offers its members. Much of the revenue is pumped back into economic development, including investing in ranches, an RV park and a truck and travel center. Rondeau said the tribal board feels self-determination and self-reliance are very important.

The tribe supports education and opportunities for its 1,750 members to flourish through their own efforts, Rondeau said.

He recalled tribal leader Sue Shaffer, who led the tribal recognition effort, saying to someone interested in a handout rather than a hand up, “Why would I want to rob you of the feeling that you will have for having done something yourself and accomplished it yourself?”

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNHwlnEMmBQTfL10FLN1uE-aFLKOWg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779485221685&ei=g0QPWeCbFqiihgGs9Y7gCA&url=http://www.nrtoday.com/news/local/south_county/canyonville/seven-feathers-casino-resort-reaches-years/article_764c3766-fa0a-5257-9bc2-351d87221394.html

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