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EditorialAn opportunity to bridge a gulf?

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Among the more interesting items at Monday’s council meeting was a joint request by the chiefs of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations that Whistler support their efforts to acquire a five acre parcel of land within Whistler’s municipal boundaries. The land is currently held by the B.C. Assets and Land Corporation.

"It is the intention of both the Squamish Nation and the Lil’wat Nation to utilize these lands in a way that reflects our history in the area and is an expression of our cultural values," the letters states.

The parcel of land is not identified but it is believed to be the so-called cultural site, on the east side of Fitzsimmons Creek, between the creek and Blackcomb Way, extending south from Lorimer Road.

The chiefs do not identify what they want to do with the land but write: "We believe that a project of this nature offers tremendous benefits for both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities and presents an opportunity for us to work together in a positive and constructive manner."

The suggestion at the council meeting was that the two First Nations would like to build a traditional long house on the site. Interesting. After dealing with big houses, council may now be asked to pass judgement on long houses.

More pertinent is the approach by the two First Nations to do business with Whistler. This is not altogether new. Several individuals and businesses in Whistler, including Whistler-Blackcomb, have worked with Mount Currie residents over the years to try and bridge the gulf between the resort and the Lil’wat Nation. Last summer Mount Currie natives opened a shop in the Roundhouse Lodge where they sold First Nations carvings, art and crafts.

It makes sense that Whistler and Mount Currie work together, but it has taken years to build a level of trust and understanding, including understanding that the goals of the two communities might be achieved together.

There is, of course, another issue on the horizon where the goals of the resort and of the First Nations may or may not be mutual. The Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation both claim the Callaghan Valley as part of their traditional territories. The Callaghan is the proposed site of the Nordic events for the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Olympic bid.

The bid corporation faces a significant challenge in finding a Nordic site that works, but it is including both First Nations in the process. If the First Nations and the bid corporation can also come to agreement on claims to traditional territories they will have taken a remarkable step forward, one that perhaps provides hope for land claims and treaty negotiations across the province.

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