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$7.7 million boost for First Nations Cultural Centre

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Federal, provincial governments back project for Squamish and Lil’wat Nations

Plans for a First Nations Cultural Centre in Whistler got a major boost this week when B.C. Premier Campbell and Robert Nault, minister of indian affairs and northern development, announced $7.7 million towards the project.

Both the premier and Nault spoke at a reception at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, voicing their support for the building.

The facility will function as a cultural centre for the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. It will be open to the public, and contain a museum, crafts market, high-tech theatre, restaurant, art gallery, and staging area for tours.

"This cultural centre is a turning point for all of us, an opportunity for us all to grasp, an opportunity for us to work together to build a brighter future for the people we serve," said Campbell.

According to Campbell, the province will kick in $3 million towards the construction of the centre through the Economic Measures Fund.

The fund was established to create new opportunities for First Nations to participate in the economy, including the oil and gas, forestry, tourism, and aquaculture industries, as well as the 2010 Olympic Bid. To date, 113 projects worth $25 million have been approved around B.C.

Campbell stressed the cooperative nature of the cultural centre, which has brought together the Squamish and Lil’Wat Nations, and local, provincial and federal governments.

He also pointed to the economic benefits, including 50 construction jobs, 15 year-round full time jobs, and 31 full and part-time jobs in the summer months.

Nault announced $4.7 million in federal funding through his ministry for the project, on top of $392,000 from the government of Canada to cover planning costs of the project.

According to Nault, the centre is a perfect fit for Whistler.

"The governments of Canada and B.C. have been proud supporters of this project since the initial planning stages," he said.

"(We) recognize the incredible value of this project, not just to B.C. but across Canada. It’s where we will showcase the best in aboriginal arts and culture to the world, adding to the strength and dynamism of the Olympic Bid."

Nault also acknowledged the role that the municipality of Whistler played in securing a site and zoning for the cultural centre and complimented Mayor Hugh O’Reilly for his ability to see the big picture, and forge partnerships with local First Nations.

The Squamish Nation was represented at the presentation by Chief Gibby Jacob and hereditary Chief Ian Campbell.

According to Chief Campbell, the cultural centre will help people, "in need of healing".

The design, based on a traditional Coast-Salish ‘Big House’ , was also appropriate.

"The Longhouse to us is our parliament, our classroom, our church, our hospital," said Chief Campbell.

" It’s a place of strength. It’s a place of energy. This (Cultural Centre) is a new chapter in our history as we are again flourishing in our environment as we have in the past," he said.

The Cultural Centre will serve as link to the past and the future for his people, said Chief Campbell, keeping history and culture alive while creating jobs and pride in the community.

The project is a positive step in the right direction, said Chief Jacob, by bringing different groups together to make it a reality.

"The tradition of our people is to share, to create partnerships," he said. "Mr. Gordon Campbell said he would deliver these things and he was true to his word. Mr. Nault also was true to his word."

Still, Jacob said, "It’s just a start. But…with willing parties on both sides of the table, there’s nothing that can’t be achieved."

The Lil’Wat Nation was represented by Chief Leonard Andrew and Councillor Morgan Wells.

Chief Andrew kept his remarks short, thanking everyone who helped to make the Cultural Centre a reality, and said he was looking forward to the grand opening.

"Today is a huge occasion for the Lil’Wat," he said.

Wells said the project is a positive step for the future of his people

"If you look up in the sky, and continue to look there long enough, a lot of other people will follow you and look up too," said Wells.

" It’s like looking into the future. If we look into the future, the future we want for our children, all others will follow behind to see what we see. So keep looking up, because we can do a lot of things."

The Squamish Lil-wat Cultural Centre will be located across from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on 1.6 hectares of provincial Crown land, which was provided for 30 years by Land and Water B.C.

The design includes a First Nations village, interpretive trails and a ceremonial gathering area surrounding the Centre.

The main building will be about 25,000 square feet, with auxiliary eco-tour buildings totaling 6,000 square feet. A ground-breaking ceremony is expected to be announced soon, with a completion date in mid-2005.

The total construction costs are estimated to be $15 million. On top of the $7.7 million announced last week, the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations have $2 million for the project, and are looking at ways to fundraise the rest of the money.

Nault did hint that more federal money might be available in the future, and both Premier Campbell and Nault said they would promote the centre as an Olympic legacy for First Nations.

The Squamish and Lil’wat are also looking into public-private partnerships to help with the costs, as well as traditional fundraising.

The Squamish Nation has about 3,000 members and encompasses an area from Greater Vancouver to the Squamish Valley as its traditional territory. The Lil’wat Nation, which includes the Mt. Currie Band, has about 2,000 members with a traditional territory stretching between Squamish and Lillooet.