Courtesy Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort
Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort is owned by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation.

Storytelling Architecture: 5 More Native Casinos That Tell Stories

Alysa Landry

Casinos are often known for their glitz and glamour, their larger-than-life décor and promises that once inside, guests can forget—even for a couple of hours—about the outside world.

Indian gaming is no exception, with tribes dedicating much time to the design of such facilities, and offering full packages of dining, lodging, gaming and shopping. But look closer. In the architectural or interior design of many of these Native-owned facilities, you’ll find depictions of creation stories, references to legends or more contemporary accounts of culture or tribes’ relationships to the land.

Here are 5 Native casinos that tell stories through architecture or design.

Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort; Mountain Pleasant, Michigan

One of the defining characteristics of this casino, owned by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation, is the artwork on its interior walls.

“We have historical photos that trace the area from when it was just land, to the boarding school era and beyond,” said C.C. Griffus, advertising manager. “We also have display cases that show items made by Native artists.”

Culture is reflected in the casino’s interior and exterior design, Griffus said, but references are subtle. Building materials like cedar and oak are used throughout, and carvings depict historical and cultural items.

“We definitely feel we’re capturing the history of the tribe,” she said.

Northern Edge Navajo Casino; Upper Fruitland, New Mexico

The Legend of the Navajo Hero Twins plays a prominent role in the design of this 30,000-square-foot casino on the Navajo Nation.

In the story, twins born to Changing Woman are trained by the Holy People to defend their people from monsters. The casino’s most obvious depiction of the twins is evident in its façade, said Suzanne Couture, senior designer for Friedmutter Group.

“We have two stone towers that represent the twins,” she said. “Outwardly, the towers are similar, but if you look closely, you can see subtle differences between them.”

On the one tower, the windows are in straight lines; the other features windows in jagged lines.

“When the twins were equipped with weapons, one twin got straight arrows and the other got zigzag arrows,” Couture said.

Other elements of the story reflected in the casino’s design include rainbow motifs that represent the twins’ method of transportation. The portico, which faces east to greet the rising sun, also ties the twins to their father, who in the story is the sun.

Red Hawk Casino; Placerville, California

Owned by the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, this casino features more than 2,000 slot machines, 60 table games, five restaurants and four bars.

But it also features subtle reminders of this small tribe’s heritage in north-central California.

An outdoor waterfall is a replica of a natural spring where tribal members would cleanse themselves after a sweat, said Daniel Fonseca, the tribe’s director of cultural resources. The main entrance to the casino, an arching porte-cochere, includes a triangular pattern on its underside that is reminiscent of a traditional basket design.

Pechanga Resort & Casino; Temecula, California

Ancestors of the Pechanga and Luiseño people of California once played a game with sticks and bones called Téeponish. The exterior of the Pechanga Resort and Casino, owned by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño people, reflects that early game.

“At night many visitors notice the horizontal, glimmering lights at both ends of the hotel and casino buildings,” said Andrew Rodrigues, principal at Delawie Architecture. “These hearken back to the game.”

Visitors will also see subtle geometric patterns that reflect basket weaving designs specific to the Pechanga and Luiseño people, Rodrigues said.

“From the outset, the Pechanga Tribe wanted their resort to exude an understated elegance, unlike the flashiness of Las Vegas,” he said. “This was achieved through the use of natural elements such as stone, wood, water and native plants.”

Visitors to the Pechanga Resort and Casino will see subtle geometric patterns and basket weaving designs. (Courtesy Pechanga Resort and Casino)

Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino; Laveen Village, Arizona

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community wanted the design of this hotel and casino to reflect two distinct cultures, said Suzanne Couture, senior designer for Friedmutter Group.

“We wanted to reference both of the histories, but also the areas where the culture is shared,” she said. “The design is an expression of the landscapes that are at the core of their existence, but we also borrowed motifs specific to each tribe.”

The exterior of the building depicts a graphic abstraction of the river, Couture said. It also includes references to the ramada, a traditional architectural style.

“When you arrive at the property, you drive up this straight road, which represents a landscaped river bed,” she said. “When you walk into the casino, the entire interior is an imagined graphic version of the river landscape.”

Colors are warm and organic, Couture said, reflecting the Arizona landscape. Motifs of pottery and baskets, borrowed from the tribes, are also evident throughout.

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