The upstairs galleries at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) have been home to a summer of artistry — connecting young people with traditional skills that stretch back centuries.
SLCC youth ambassador Sutikem is working with three teens from Mount Currie on a project close to her heart, creating Lil'wat and Squamish Nation dance and ceremonial regalia using traditional methods and materials.
"This is the first time I've jumped into this line of work without my parents' help, but it's really exciting," Sutikem says.
This is the program's first year, though Sutikem has been making clothing and traditional dance regalia since she was tiny as part of her work with the Iswalh Dance Troupe.
"I was part of the dance group since before I could walk. I was pretty much born into it," Sutikem says.
"I had experience making it alongside my parents, making sure my regalia was good to go, and making new ones when I grew out of my clothes."
She started planning the program in March, with the students joining her in April. They worked at the SLCC and spoke to visitors coming through.
"We get to build traditional clothing in-house," she says.
"It's a challenge having everyone come in and watch. But it's nice to interact with everyone and you can tell that a lot of people like to interact. Having a project right in front of you — the stitch work and the material — very interesting.
"It's a big lesson. Even (getting visitors to understand) the difference between calling it a costume versus traditional regalia is important. The word 'costume' gets to me a little — to me this is cultural, (and) very sacred to us."
The students are not much younger than Sutikem. Loteesha Pascal, Uriah Wallace and Cassandra McKeown graduate from the program on Thursday, Aug. 31. This is the first time any of them had created traditional clothing.
Pascal says she has never felt so committed to a project, while Wallace adds:
"I've learned a lot. We did a lot of workshops; my favourite was flint knapping. We made arrowheads... My hands are pretty tired," she laughs.
"I will be able to tell the younger generation that I know how to make traditional clothing, and if they need help I can help them."
The six adult regalia — three men's and three women's — consist of deer- and elk-skin outfits. The cutting, smoking, stitching, and dyeing methods are all traditional. It's a time-consuming process, with pieces still being created.
One thing Sutikem was taught was to not neglect the decoration on the inside of the regalia, which is reserved for individual dancers to tell their own stories.
The pieces should be fully completed sometime in 2018.
Eventually, they will be part of a new dance and storytelling program about Spo7ez, the ancient village located near Whistler where both the Squamish and Lil'wat people lived.
For more information, visit www.slcc.com.