The Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre has thrown open its doors to the people whose culture and history will be jointly recounted there for years to come.
Hundreds of people from the Squamish and Lil’Wat Nations converged upon the centre June 17 as chiefs and elders of both nations inaugurated the building in a series of ceremonies and rituals.
“That’s what the people of Whistler have always asked, who are the people of this land. We are the people of this land!” Leonard Andrew, chief of the Lil’Wat nation, told an audience that erupted in cheers.
“When I came on board halfway through the plans of this building, I was asking myself at that time… what are we doing? But today answers that.”
The event was not publicized beforehand in order that it could be more intimate, according to Nora Weber, a spokeswoman for the centre.
“It was specifically for them so that it could be more sacred,” she said.
Located on 1.6 hectares of Crown land across from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, the centre is a three-storey, 30,400 square foot building that overlooks Lost Lake Park. Built at a cost of nearly $30 million, it has been designed to emulate a traditional Squamish longhouse and a Lil’Wat istken (pit house).
A longhouse and istken will also be constructed outside the building, but they have not yet been completed.
The centre has two spinning whorls at its front entrance, representing the Squamish and Lil’Wat nations, and various features hang from the ceiling including canoes, quilts and images of elders.
Images of Squamish and Lil’Wat people adorn the walls, while glass windows spanning the length of the building reveal mountainous and forested area outside.
The building, designed by Vancouver-based Waugh, Busby Architects, is meant to preserve the cultures of both nations and share them with the world, according to the centre’s website.
Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob also addressed the opening and said it’s been a “long road” toward establishing the centre.
“Sometimes you ask yourself, why do these things?” he said. “As I look around today, all the ones who I see here are children and a lot of respect for the past.”
“I hope everybody appreciates the building because it belongs to you.”
The event began as Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation and Chris Wells of the Lil’Wat Nation led a group of drummers and dancers in a series of songs, including a “greeting of the day.”
Children in the audience were asked to give up their seats to elders and Campbell later called upon various people to act as witnesses for the opening. It is custom in Squamish culture for people to act as witnesses to record events through memory.
Earlier in the day, youth ambassadors at the centre “smudged” the entire building, a physical and spiritual cleansing ritual that uses herbs and incense to purge people, objects and places of negative energy.
A soft opening for the centre is to take place Saturday, June 21 which is National Aboriginal Day, while a grand opening is to take place on July 10. Premier Gordon Campbell is expected to be in attendance.