‘Once there was nothing … now we have this’
“We started out with high expectations and we weren’t disappointed. This place is absolutely stunning and there isn’t a department in this entire operation that didn’t have some part in helping build it, doing their jobs perfectly.”
With that comment, Kimberly Van Amburg, CEO of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Casino Del Sol, welcomed the crowd to the unveiling of the tribe’s second hotel, Estrella at Casino Del Sol, an 18-month building project from groundbreaking to the grand opening.
Estrella, meaning ‘star’, and its additional 151 new rooms, should prove to be an Estrella Fugaz — a shooting star — expansion of the tribe’s existing 4-Star/4-Diamond lodging facilities built eight years ago.
“This facility was constructed to resemble, but not replicate, the higher-end Casino Del Sol Resort Hotel,” added Facilities Director John DeLuna.
Located on 2.2 acres of Arizona’ Sonoran Desert, the 6-floor Estrella offers a Sonoran Desert design with a modern twist. Color and form complement the desert mountain backdrop with family-friendly amenities like a 100-foot water slide.
“The new facility allows us to meet our increased demand for rooms,” said Van Amburg. “People are going to love this place.”
The assembled crowd already did with Herminia Frias, one of the eleven tribal council members who authorized the hotel construction, feeling, “Elation. This is a proud moment for us. We’re proud of who we are as Yoeme and this is just one example of what we can accomplish.”
Councilmember Francisco Munoz reflected in awe at the Estrella hotel connected to the casino by a covered walkway for guests to stroll between the two properties. “Where once there was nothing, now we have this,” he said.
Councilmember David Ramirez noted simply: “We work toward a goal of tribal members having what others on the outside already have and this is another step that gets us closer to that goal.”
The two-hour ceremony involving many blessings, it was noted that 100 tribal members had found employment as part of the construction crew helping to build part of the tribe’s future.
Many of the tribe’s nearly 20,000 enrolled members, including some from across the border in Mexico, were present to hear council members thank the elders. One member in that category still acts as secretary to the council.
Calling herself “a grassroots elder still working for my tribe,” Mary Jane Buenamea remembered when her village meant dirt floors, kerosene lamps, and hauling well water to wooden and adobe shed homes. “Keeping our past in mind, we try to make thoughtful decisions to invest in our future,” she said.
Tribal Chairman Robert Valencia echoed those sentiments: “From dirt floors and outhouses to this contemporary complex, here we are, we did it."
“We’re a sharing people, capable of doing many things that, in turn, motivate others. And while we celebrate today’s addition, there’s more to come as another three or four buildings have yet to be built. Thanks to the wisdom of our elders, we can now help others”.
CEO Van Amburg added a final thanks to everyone who played a part in seeing the new hotel to fruition with “special thanks to the tribal council for their support, feedback, and assistance.”
The Estrella grand opening signified completion of Casino Del Sol’s large-scale hospitality project that included expansion of meeting space at Casino Del Sol, a new Sunset Room event center at its sister property, Casino of the Sun, and a new 73-space recreational vehicle park -- all projects that broke ground in July 2018.
Lee Allen is a longtime contributor to Indian Country Today who resides and works in Tucson Arizona.