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Bridging cultural waters

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RMOW Policy and Program Development

Every spring the ice on Alta Lake cracks along an east-west line in the centre. As the height of land in the Whistler Valley, Alta Lake drains out of both ends, with northward flowing water going into the Lillooet River and the southerly flows merging with the Cheakamus and ultimately the waters of the mighty Squamish.

These two rivers — Lillooet and Squamish — are also the names of our First Nations neighbours and a watershed moment will occur early next summer as the Squamish-Lil’wat (Lillooet) Cultural Centre opens on the east bank of Fitzsimmons Creek in the Upper Village. Oriented around mountains (rocks), trees (wood), wind and water and aligned with the solar directions to capture and use solar heat and light, this 10,000 square metre facility on 1.6 hectares of Crown Land will be the first step in creating a significant First Nations presence in Whistler since the resort community was established.

Culture, art, heritage, ancient languages and indigenous ethnobotany are all gifts the Squamish and Lil’wat have at their beck and call to share with visitors and residents of the Sea to Sky corridor through the spiritual and built environment in and around the $15 million centre, although these gifts are priceless. A joint effort of all levels of government and the Squamish and Lil’wat, the green-built cultural centre will diversify our resort economy, enhance the visitor experience, offer additional learning opportunities to locals and visitors alike, provide a gathering place grounded in the past, present and future Squamish-Lil’wat experience and allow First Nations culture to become a prominent offering in Whistler to the world.

The project is providing 50 construction jobs, an estimated 15 year-round jobs and additional jobs in summer, for a total of up to 31 full- and part-time staff during the peak season. Entry fees are still in the design phase, but according to Lyle Leo, lead Lil’wat negotiator, the fees will allow for reduced or preferred entry fees for local First Nations and Whistler residents.

According to Leo, a “diversified approach” has added value to every facet of the cultural centre. Lil’wat and Squamish information will dominate, but aboriginal cultures from around the world will be invited to participate in the centre’s programming.

“The centre provides an opportunity to provide our current and future population to step off the Indian reserve and gain some confidence in other positive avenues that are about us and our culture,” Leo says. “Being able to share our stories and ourselves with the world is a great opportunity through this project and the interface of the centre.”

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