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First Nations launch shared journey

Pricey cultural centre "a great addition to Whistler"

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Seven people were called to bear witness to the launch of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre by Chief Ian Campbell Tuesday afternoon, forever tying them to the new facility.

And while he wasn’t among the seven, the provincial minister responsible for Tourism, Sports and the Arts, Stan Hagen, made a prediction.

“I believe it’s going to draw tourists from around the world. I believe it’s going to make a difference to your community,” said Hagen.

“This is going to be a very, very great addition to Whistler, the province of British Columbia and to Canada.”

The price tag of the cultural centre has climbed again — to $28.4 million — and there is still a funding shortfall. But after a tour of the facility, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008, Hagen, Lil’wat Chief Leonard Andrew, Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob and others gathered Tuesday expressed their support and excitement about the opportunities ahead.

The 30,000 square foot cultural centre, which incorporates the traditional long house of the Coast Salish people and the Istken of the Interior Salish in its design, is to be the focal point of a new era for the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations. The facility grew out of a 2001 protocol agreement between the Squamish and Lil’wat, which ties the two first nations together on a shared journey.

“That’s what I’m most proud of,” said Jacob.

The cultural centre will include an 80-seat theatrical centre for live performances, an outdoor arts and crafts demonstration area, a 1,200 square foot retail store, a cultural tour booking centre, an Aboriginal tourism information centre and an artists training program. It was also announced Tuesday that the Four Seasons Resort Whistler has partnered with the cultural centre on a café and catering facility with traditional native and west coast cuisine.

The agreement between the Four Seasons and the cultural centre was signed by general manager Scott Taber, Chief Julie Baker of the Squamish Nation and Ruth Dick of the Lil’wat using a pen made from cedar, rock, reindeer hide and an eagle feather.

“The Four Seasons is very proud and very excited to be part of this,” said Taber, who was also one of the witnesses called.

“Where rivers, mountains and people meet” is the theme of the cultural centre, which will also employ a logo unveiled Tuesday. The logo incorporates the step pattern found in Lil’wat woven baskets and the “Salish eye” representing the watchful eyes of past and future generations and often carved in Squamish paddles and canoes. The symbols are on a circle representing a spindle whorl, a tool used by both nations to spin mountain goat wool.

In addition to the cultural centre Chief Ian Campbell outlined a Sea to Sky Highway signage program that will incorporate First Nations art and history.

“We realize we are largely invisible in our own land,” Campbell said.

“We want to invite people to our territories, as hosts.”

Paddles, signs will mark the way along the highway and kiosks will invite people to stop and enjoy the journey.

A book of Squamish and Lil’wat culture is also planned to complement the sign program.

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