Lighting the ilani Christmas tree kicks off the season on a high note


COWLITZ INDIAN RESERVATION – The holiday season is officially on. To get the season off to a good start, ilani hosted their annual tree lighting celebration on Wednesday evening.

At the center of the festivities was the 54-foot-tall Christmas tree. The tree has over 3,000 lights and takes almost a month to build and decorate. Tom Teesdale, the casino’s vice president of marketing, said the goal is to add an additional 4 feet to the tree each year until it reaches its maximum height of 100 feet. With freight shipments delayed or completely blocked, Teesdale said the casino was unable to increase the height of the tree this year, but added a new bow.

Vancouver resident Christine Swift and her daughter Korina were among dozens of people gathered under the large transparent plastic tent to watch the tree lighting. The couple said it was their first year at the holiday celebration after they had been to the casino before.

“We’ve never been to tree lighting before, so we thought this would be a great way to start the holiday season,” said Christine Swift.

The lighting of the trees was not the only attraction of the evening. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe Drum Group kicked off the evening’s musical performance with two traditional songs. They were followed by the Ridgefield High School Choir’s performance of contemporary favorites such as “Santa Baby” and “All I Want for Christmas is You”. The last live musical performance came from Dickens Carolers’ Belles and Beaus Quartet. Dressed in Victorian-era costumes, the a capella group sang Christmas classics such as “Jingle Bells” and “The Little Drummer Boy”.

“We’ve been going out for three years and we’ve kind of made it a tradition,” said Jason Hattrick.

Hattrick, from Vancouver, and his son Parker didn’t come just for tree lighting. In addition to the hot chocolate on tap, there were homemade sugar cookies – Parker’s favorites – candy canes and hot coffee for party-goers to enjoy.

Hattrick runs Kindness 911, a nonprofit support organization that connects law enforcement with the communities they serve.

“I have had the opportunity to work with the Cowlitz Tribal Police Department and every time they do these events we come here,” Hattrick said. “It’s a good time for father and son to go out, have a cookie and hot chocolate and start the holidays. “

Santa and Mrs Claus were also on hand to take photos with the kids (and some adults), listen to Christmas wishes, and tick off lists of bad guys or good guys.

The evening’s festivities were capped by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, represented by members Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, Whitney Mosback, Suzanne Donaldson and Luke Bridges and Vice President Patty Kniswa-Gaiser, awarding nearly $ 200,000 to several groups. and non-profit organizations.

The Ridgefield Lions received $ 10,000.

“One of the mottos of Lions is: ‘Where there is a need, there is a Lion’. It will help us immensely in our work in the community, ”said Lions leader Dean Stenehjem.

Another group receiving funds was Santa’s Posse, which received $ 30,000. Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkinson said the extra money was particularly welcome this year, as the costs of toys and food rose about 25%.

Share Vancouver received $ 50,000.

“We are absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude to the Cowlitz and Ilani tribe for this incredible support.” Share CEO Diane McWithey said.

McWithey said the funds would help pay for free meals provided by the organization.

Two scholarships were also awarded. Lower Columbia College received a scholarship of $ 50,000 and Lackamas Elementary School in Yelm received a scholarship of $ 57,365.41.

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