|Indian Country Today, Oneida, N.Y.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 9, 2004 - MORONGO INDIAN RESERVATION, Calif. – The Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Perini Building Company celebrated the topping-out of the new Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa with the hoisting of the highest piece of structural steel on to the resort's rooftop on March 31. Featuring four-star suites and rooms, multiple restaurant facilities, a nightclub, spa, ballrooms, convention facilities, retail space and a pool oasis, the 600,000 square-foot hotel and casino is the largest economic development project undertaken by the tribe in its history.
"Our world-class casino, resort and spa is scheduled to open in November and will be the premier recreational gaming destination on the West Coast," said Morongo tribal chairman Maurice Lyons. "It is a beautiful and unique design inspired by the forces of nature. We believe the new resort will bring a piece of paradise to the desert."
Located 90 minutes east of Los Angeles and 20 minutes west of Palm Springs between the scenic San Gorgonio and San Jacinto mountain ranges, the destination resort will offer visitors a full range of entertainment and recreational options. Lush gardens, sandy beaches and extensive landscaping are among the design features of the property.
"When complete, the resort will set a new standard for tribal casinos and gaming in California," said Perini Building Company chairman Dick Rizzo.
Expected to generate more than $2.8 billion in new jobs and economic benefits within the next five years, the Morongo tribe is the largest private-sector employer in the Pass Area and provides economic stability to the reservation and surrounding communities of the Inland Empire.
"As a prominent partner of the community and part of California's tribal gaming industry, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians is a major contributor to the seventh largest economy in the world," said Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley. "The new casino, resort and spa will serve as an economic driver for the county with the creation of more than 4,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in new goods and services purchased over the next five years.
The current facility, Casino Morongo, hosts more than 1.5 million visitors annually. With the opening of Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa scheduled for fall 2004, patrons will soon enjoy an expansive 148,000 square foot state-of-the-art casino housing a complete selection of slot machines and table games and rooms for bingo and poker.
"With a seasoned Perini project team, 1,000 dedicated craftspeople and precision planning, the project remains on schedule," said Tom Linton, Morongo's director of planning and economic development who is overseeing the project together with the tribal council. "-- We have been able to successfully maintain momentum while adhering to our budget."
Construction unions were among the first to endorse and support Indian self-reliance during Propositions 5 and 1A. Of the 20 major subcontractors working on the project, 19 are union shops.
ABOUT THE MORONGO BAND OF MISSION INDIANS
The Morongo tribe operates one of the largest and oldest tribal government gaming facilities in California. As a direct result of the gaming operation's success, the Morongo tribe has eliminated welfare dependency on the reservation. The tribe now pays for a wide range of its community services including water storage and distribution systems, waste management, road maintenance, public safety, college education funding, recreational facilities, Headstart program assistance and more.
The Morongo tribe is the largest private sector employer in the Banning-Beaumont region and a major contributor to the Coachella Valley economy. The tribe presently employs approximately 2,000 people in gaming and non-gaming tribal operations.
TRIBAL CHAIRMAN PROFILE
Born in Riverside County as one of nine children, Maurice Lyons grew up on the Morongo Indian Reservation. "Life on the reservation prior to gaming was a hard life," said Lyons. "We didn't have electricity so until I was 7 or 8 we used kerosene lamps. We would stuff the cracks of our windows with paper to keep out the wind. Having that kind of a life to start with made me appreciate the importance of tribal self-sufficiency."
Lyons began his public service career in 1994 and has served as a tribal housing commissioner and as chairman of the Morongo Headstart Parent Policy Committee. He was elected tribal chairman in July, 2001.
The Morongo tribal members conduct elections annually to cast their ballots for a tribal chairperson and six members of their tribal council. Terms of office are for two years and are staggered. Chairman Lyons and the council establish policy and oversee the legal and business affairs, economic development, and community services for the tribe.
Chairman Lyons also works with both state and federal legislators on Indian issues and matters affecting tribal government and economic development.
"Today tribal governments are in a transition that began with independence, progressed through a long, difficult period of survival, and are now moving again to self-determination and control. We plan to continue our progress, protect the legacy of our sovereignty and provide for the future self-sufficiency of our people," Lyons said.
Lyons is deeply committed to youth programs and language programs designed to preserve tribal culture, customs and traditions. "Our heritage is everything and we are working hard to ensure our children learn our languages and traditions," he said.
Lyons attended Banning High School and in those days there were no classes available in tribal history or culture. "Governor Davis has signed two historic pieces of legislation that will provide for true Indian education in California and will protect our sacred sites and artifacts."
Lyons is also making it a priority to improve the quality of life on the reservation. "We are moving forward to take care of the children, families and elders who live on the reservation. Planning is under way for a new administration building and complex," said Lyons.
Lyons represents the Morongo tribe with the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), a 70-member state association of tribal governments and with the Tribal Affiance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN), a regional federation of 13 tribal governments based in the Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
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