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First Nations set to develop Whistler sites

Three-way partnership established to bring economic opportunities to Squamish and Lil’wat Nations

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First Nations are poised to reap the benefits of developing land in Whistler.

Two sites have been identified for potential development for Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation as part of their 300-acre legacy lands awarded during 2010 Olympic negotiations.

The sites are both Crown land. One is in Alpine above the Rainbow lands, and is known as Alpine North. The other site is located opposite Alta Vista in an area known as the BCBC Lands or the Capilano/Mainroad Works Yard.

If all goes according to plan these two opportunities will allow First Nations to develop the land, sell it and then funnel the proceeds back into their communities.

"It’s an imperative that we need to develop," said Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob. "Number one for revenue, number two to create… jobs, and (number three) once we start getting revenue on these… projects, to reinvest into other economic activities."

Like Whistler, Squamish and Lil’wat Nations were given 300 acres of Crown land between them as part of their legacies from the Olympics.

Whistler must use its 300 acres for resident housing. First Nations have no such restrictions and developing valuable land could yield tremendous economic benefits. Whistler is the logical choice for that development. It is shared First Nations territory and it should have the most return on their investment.

To this end, a unique partnership between Squamish Nation, Lil’wat Nation and the Resort Municipality of Whistler has been forged.

Though years in the making, this new partnership was formalized in a letter of intent signed on May 18 by the three stakeholders.

"(This) simplifies all the dealings that we have to go through in regards to our shared legacy lands and other issues because it sets out the guiding principles as to what we have to deal with," said Chief Leonard Andrew of Lil’wat First Nation. "So we don’t have to go back to square one every time we have an issue come forward."

The letter will lead to an official Memorandum of Understanding which will outline the parameters of how the First Nations and the resort will work together in the years to come.

"There’s no handbook on how to do this," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

The difficulty he said is that First Nations have the right to develop on 300 acres of Crown land at the same time as Whistler is reaching its cap on development.

"That’s a little challenging for us because we weren’t part of that consultation (with the province and First Nations) and we have a plan that’s got a very limited amount of new growth," said O’Reilly. "But the unique thing about Whistler, and I remind everyone, is that in Whistler what’s great is that sometimes less is more. It’s not about having 300 acres. You may only need a small piece of that 300 but with the right opportunity it could be very beneficial to them as a community."

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