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Maori delegates visit SLCC

Indigenous representatives from New Zealand hosted by Squamish Nation

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A group of Maori delegates from Rotarua, New Zealand stopped by the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Center (SLCC) on Saturday after attending the World Indigenous Housing Conference (WIHC) in Vancouver last week.

Their visit to the SLCC was followed by lunch and exchange of cultural protocols at Totem Hall in Squamish, including a performance of traditional song and dance and an exchange of gifts.

"The Maoris expressed an interest to come over and tour our community and see us at the end of the week so we hosted about 40 delegates on Saturday," said Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation.

"The tour of the SLCC was definitely a highlight, it was well received and we felt it added a lot of value to the experience of international delegates to come to this part of the world. We managed to establish a relationship with the Maoris through a protocol agreement with the King Tuheitia of the Tainui tribe (several years ago) so it's nice to follow up with other opportunities to engage with the Maoris.

"We had a chance to talk over some of the dynamics they're experiencing in New Zealand and some of the correlations (it) has with Canada."

Some of the feedback received from the Maoris included how the 2010 Winter Olympic Games put Indigenous people on the map, particularly with the recognition of First Nations during the Opening Ceremony.

"It's somewhat of a challenge to change the relationship here in Canada to have heads of states recognized," continued Campbell.

There was plenty of opportunity for such discussion during the week-long WIHC held at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver with over 200 aboriginal delegates attending from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and throughout Canada — though these discussions were focused primarily on housing issues that are common to both groups.

Themes presented by speakers included health and housing, capacity building, disaster preparedness, governance and partnerships. TV star Mike Holmes (from HGTV show Holmes on Homes) led the workshop on disaster preparedness strategies for indigenous communities by highlighting the social, financial and technical capacity needed to respond to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires and flooding.

"It was a great event that brought together looking at the conditions within our communities and the opportunities for indigenous people to raise capital, build capital, all the other safety and health issues that are linked to the housing issue," said Campbell.

Many of the delegates were unable to stay and take part in the festivities of the National Aboriginal Day (NAD) celebrations starting June 21, though attendance should not be a problem with the lineup of activities going on at the SLCC.

"Each and every year it gets bigger and bigger with more awareness," said Allison Burns, human resources and training coordinator at the SLCC when speaking of the growing popularity of NAD.

"Some people don't live in the traditional way throughout the year, but (NAD) is the one day to have a connection with the people in the community."

With a full program featuring artist markets, musical performances, crafts for the kids and a game meat barbeque, there will be plenty of First Nations culture on offer at the SLCC for all ages.

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