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 First 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.
On Monday, Feb. 15 and Wednesday, Feb. 17, the Lil'wat Nation will present three of their best dancers and storytellers: Gerald Gabriel (Takem wi saquta), Bobby Stager and Marie Rosalee (Joseph) Abraham.
On Tuesday, Feb. 16 and Saturday, Feb. 27, the Welth Tima Kexwusem (Culture Bringing People Together) dance group of the Squamish Nation will perform in traditional regalia of cedar, wool, buckskin and paddle.
Alex Wells, a three-time world champion hoop dancer form the Lil'wat Nation, shares the magical story of the creation of life through one of the most difficult and advanced dance styles in a performance on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 11 a.m. Later that same day and again on Sunday, Feb. 21, the Kalan wi group presents a reggae-infused world beat coupled with the traditional hand drumming of the Lil'wat Nation with Leroy Joe on guitar and vocals, Vania Stager on vocals and Rich Doucet on percussion.
Other performances include traditional song and dance from the Lil'wat Nation's Ishwalh dancers and storytelling with SLCC ambassador Tanina Williams.
On top of their own rich roster of cultural programming the SLCC will also play host to some very special performances that are part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. Namely, three special performances from visiting First Nations groups: the We yah hani nah Coastal First Nations Dance Festival 2010, Artcirq and Raven Stole the Sun.
We yah hani nah Coastal First Nations Dance Festival 2010 features the Dancers of Damelahamid, a traditional Gitksan dance group from Skeena River in northwestern B.C. They will perform a series of masked dances, stories and songs on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"I'm definitely excited to see them," Lewis said.
Artcirq is a Nunavut-based arts collective founded in 1998 in Igloolik following the suicides of two young people. With guidance from Montreal's Cirque ...loize and Isuma Productions, the founders of Artcirq set out to bridge the gap between generations and cultures. Today, Artcirq has grown into a circus like no other, winning over world-wide audiences with their acrobatics, juggling and clowns coupled with Inuit throat singing, drumming and traditional games. They are set to perform on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"They've had almost Cirque du Soleil training, so that's going to be really cool to check out, as well," Lewis said.
Finally, Red Sky Performance troupe blends theatre, dance and humour in their presentation of Raven Stole the Sun, the story of Raven, a magical creature of impulse and curiosity, who hatches a scheme for stealing the stars, the moon and the sun, but ends up bringing light to the people of the world.
"That's one of my favourite stories," Lewis recalled with a laugh. "My mom told me that as a little 'mun-mun' as we call them - little kids."
The family-friendly performance takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Thursday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Lewis's hopes for the SLCC following the Games are high.
"I hope it opens the eyes of people, to show that all First Nations aren't headdresses and teepees, they're all different. We all have our own traditions, we all have our own protocols, but we're happy to share and we're happy to teach."
For more information on their 2010 schedule of events, visit www.slcc.ca.