The Callaghan Valley is claimed as traditional territory by both the Squamish Nation and Lil'wat people; it's where the coastal First Nation met the Interior First Nation.
Under a recently signed protocol agreement between the two nations Whistler will be the site of their first project together: a cultural centre on the Blackcomb Benchlands at the corner of Lorimer Road and Blackcomb Way. "We want to build bridges, bridges between our community and the outside community," Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacobs told Whistler council Tuesday.
Jacobs talked about Weetama, Whistler's Celebrtion of Aboriginal Culture, being a great event and "it shows there is a real place for what we're proposing."
What the two nations are proposing is a cultural centre that combines the form of a big house or long house traditionally used by the Coast Salish people with an ishkin pit house used traditionally by the Lil'wat. The project will be built in two phases but will include a theatre, arts and craft exhibition space, a space for story telling, a gift shop, an ecotourism staging area, a restaurant, office and administration space and possibly some employee housing.
The site has long been reserved for a cultural centre, but it was only a year and a half ago that the municipality began holding discussions with the two First Nations.
Alan Stager, Chief of the Lil'wat Nation, said the project "will be a facility for aboriginal people and cultures around the world."
Architect Alfred Wah said the project was about building relationships. "It's about moving from the reserve to the outside economic community," he said.
The project is intended to be a "gateway" to the surrounding forest through interpretive paths and glazing. The building will "grow out of the site" and require little excavation.
The land still has to be rezoned but the project was received enthusiastically by council Tuesday. Mayor Hugh O'Reilly said it was "exciting for us to be participating" in the project.
Councillor Nick Davies said the cultural centre would be good for Whistler by building relationships and creating cultural exchanges, but it will also be good for Whistler business.
Councillor Ken Melamed said the First Nations cultural centre was "probably the only development on this site I could support." "Don't ever let it be said that I can't compromise," Melamed said.