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Opening doors to First Nations culture

SLCC remains open to public throughout Olympics, hosting range of performances and events

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To Willie Lewis, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre is a dream realized for his people.

"The presence of the centre here in Whistler just kind of gives us an identity and says that this land wasn't uninhabited when people came here, it was actually traditional territory shared between the two nations," Lewis explained.

"So it gives us a base and it gives us an identity and it gives tourists the knowledge that there were people here before it was a ski resort."

A member of the Squamish Nation, Lewis is group sales coordinator and youth ambassador for the SLCC, moving from Seattle, Washington to work at the centre before it opened in July 2008. Now, almost a year and a half after opening to the public, Lewis has had plenty of opportunity to learn more about his own culture and share it with the rest of the world.

"We want to show people that, yes, we do live in the modern world, but we still practice all of our traditions and all of our teachings. We kind of walk in two worlds."

The Olympics are the ultimate opportunity to share that knowledge of heritage and culture, with thousands of visitors from around the world flocking to Whistler for the action.

By and large, it will be business as usual at the centre during the month of February. While the upper portion of the SLCC - the mezzanine and longhouse - have been rented out to Panasonic, the exhibits have been moved downstairs and the centre will be open to the public throughout the Olympic period, with admission by donation until March 21. They will be open seven days per week, from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

"That was always the goal, to keep the main centre open to the public during the Games so we could show the world who we are and what we do and a little bit of our traditions," Lewis said.

Istken Hall will continue to play host to the Winter Farmers Market each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as vendors from throughout the province sell handcrafted and homegrown wares.

But the SLCC has also joined the Whistler Live! lineup as a venue for ArtWalk events, hosting a large collection of artwork from leading FirstĀ  Nations artists from Squamish, Lil'wat and other Northwest Coastal Aboriginal Nations.

Starting on Sunday, Feb. 14, the centre will host a daily selection of special events ranging from storytelling and drumming to hoop and modern dance.

Two carvers - Aaron Nelson-Moody from the Squamish Nation and Delmar Williams of the Lil'wat Nation - have been commissioned to carve four pieces in the Great Hall. The artists will be on-hand daily to demonstrate their craft.

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