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Intercultural Festival seeks cultural integration

organizers expanding festival to three days



Last year's Multicultural Festival was a success.

Okay, maybe not financially —festival organizer William Roberts says they "barely broke even," but it succeeded in uniting Whistler's various ethnic communities for an afternoon of dance, music and really good food. It was well attended and everyone, it appeared, had a positive experience.

This year, Roberts, founder of the Whistler Forum for Diversity and Leadership, is taking the concept one step further, rebranding it as the Intercultural Festival in order for the various communities to better "interact and integrate with each other."

"(The name change) reflects a growing awareness and need in Canada for various cultures...all to learn from each other, and to learn from each other's culture, background and diversity in an effort to build common ground and bridges to a better future," Roberts says.

"Whether its Sikhs in Squamish or Filipinos here or people from Korea or China or Japan, it's important for us all to live in our own circles, but to reach out to build bridges across cultures in a way that's interactive and hopefully builds trust and creativity."

Building on last year's format, Williams and Watermark Communications are expanding this year's festival, originally scheduled for Thursday, June 28, to include forums and other events on the following Friday and Saturday.

Just moments before speaking with Pique, Roberts had found out the Intercultural Festival has received an $11,400 grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada's Inter-Action fund, allowing the festival to expand beyond a single afternoon.

(Roberts was unable to provide exact details for this issue about the forums and events, but Pique will provide online updates, as details are made available.)

At the core of these celebrations will be Thursday's street festival. Like last year, Whistler's various ethnic groups will set up food and artisan tents along Main Street. Music and dance groups will perform and there will be a crafts for the children.

"It's a family event where people can gather on Main Street and have a great time," says Watermark Communication's festival organizer Ester Melotte.

She says the entertainment at this year's festival will focus more on cultural activities, having learned from last year's "mish mash."

"Last year, for example, the music was local and not full on Filipino music or anything, so we're trying to take that up a notch," she says.

Perhaps best of all, this year's festival will include even more food vendors.

Oh. Yes.

The Filipino community — Whistler's largest ethnic group — will have a considerable presence this year, setting up a food tent and providing a traditional Filipino dance routine as part of the festival's entertainment lineup.

Melotte says the Indonesian, Persian, Sikh, French (both national and French Canadian) and First Nations communities will also be represented, among others.

Roberts says he'd known of various multicultural and heritage festivals in cities throughout Canada, but it wasn't until the Olympics, where he witnessed the harmonious mix of cultures flourishing with such enthusiasm throughout Whistler Village, that the idea occurred to him to create a hometown festival celebrating Whistler's different ethnicities.

"I sort of thought a part of the legacy is how to continue to have Whistler and Canada be a hospitable place for people from around the world and to really accentuate that and affirm the cultural diversity, not just in individual, nationalistic ways, but in ways that people can connect with and learn from each other in a global community," he says.

With increased funding and more awareness within the community, Roberts says they're "slowly building" toward his vision of an established multi-day event that includes a street festival that celebrates the food, dance and music of collected cultures, forums and other events that kick off Whistler's summer season in conjunction with Canada's Multiculturalism Day and leading into Canada Day.

He says he has every intention of drawing cultural groups from outside of Whistler to strengthen the festival's appeal and diversity.

"By all means, we're neighbours with Squamish and Pemberton, even the Lower Mainland," he says.

"We're not showcasing our own cultural diversity but the whole region and, with this federal funding, it's part of what we are as Canadians."