It's been 10 years in the works but now the Squamish and Lil-wat Nations are officially recognized along the Sea to Sky corridor.
The Cultural Journey Sea to Sky, officially launched June 24 at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, includes seven granite signs along the highway featuring the traditional place names for Skwxwú7mesh Snichim. Most of the Sea to Sky signage has been up since the Olympics but the centre saved an official launch for Nation Aboriginal Week.
The project, intended to rev up Aboriginal cultural tourism throughout the corridor, played out as more a symbol of the nations recovering their past. In a tradition-laden ceremony, chiefs and elders beat their drums and sang their songs with a confidence they've only recently been afforded.
"We've been invisible in our own land for so long," said Squamish Hereditary Chief Ian Campbell. "This is a great opportunity to showcase the culture, the resilience of the culture, the nature and the authenticity of our connection to this part of the world."
The Cultural Journey also includes the160 newly branded aluminum Highway signs. Starting at Lions Bay, each sign is located at major Highway 99 pullouts and includes kiosks detailing history of the land and its people, leading to the journey's final destination, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
"I think that together, through projects like the cultural journey, we are reshaping the social and economic landscape. We're creating a much more inclusive and prosperous future for all of British Columbia," said West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre.
McIntyre and Minister of Aboriginal Relations John Piper were among 10 government officials and municipal employees who helped develop the project. They were given ceremonial blankets as expressions of the nations' gratitude for helping to make the project a reality.
The ceremony culminated with the unveiling of carved house posts of a bear, raven, man and a woman by Squamish Nation carver Aaron Nelson-Moody and Lil'wat carver Delmar Williams. That was followed by the blessing of a log, to be carved by Squamish carver Rick Harry. That carving, a welcome figure with arms held open, will be placed in the Whistler alpine in August.
The Cultural Journey is the most visible and public example of the Shared Legacy Agreement, an agreement between Squamish and Lil'Wat Nations, signed in 2002 to ensure that the two nations benefited from the 2010 Games. Under the agreement, the province agreed to provide 300 acres of land for the Nations to pursue economic development opportunities; contribute $2.3 million for a "skills and legacy training project"; and contribute another $3 million toward the construction of the cultural centre.
"For a long time, there was very little talk amongst the municipalities and the first nations," Campbell said. "I would say this has definitely strengthened our relations with the business community, with tourism, with local government, the province."
Campbell, who has been one of the lead negotiators on the project since the Shared Legacy Agreement was reached, said the signage was important to "create a visible presence" of their history and culture, included with the shared histories of all the people along the Sea to Sky.
"Our stories are you stories. Our history is your history. It doesn't start in 1791 in contact with Captain Vancouver. It goes many, many generations before that. It's a continuity of tradition."
The launch is the "end of construction" for the project, according to the centre's marketing manager Gwen Baudisch. She said the cultural centre will now focus on building the project up, seeking out more aboriginal experiences to increase the awareness of aboriginal cultural tourism in the corridor. Part of that focus will be to add more educational multimedia elements similar to the audio guide and the cultural journey exhibit that are already up and running.