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Thinking outside the reserve box

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Economic diversity and opportunity key to success for Squamish Nation

If the Squamish First Nation is to continue to thrive it must look for new opportunities and partnerships.

"I look at the reserve as a box," Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob told Whistler Rotary Club members and guests this week.

"We have to get outside of the box and create an economy. We need to create it up here because we need to maintain opportunities down in the Lower Mainland for our future.

"So looking outside the box there are a lot of opportunities that we see are available."

Some of those opportunities are already being pursued with the push toward building the First Nations cultural centre in Whistler.

The Squamish Nation has also been involved since the very beginning in the bid to bring the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to Whistler and Vancouver.

The international Olympic Committee will decide in July who will host the Games. B.C. is competing against Pyeongchang, Korea and Salzburg, Austria.

With the Games could be new opportunities in the Callaghan Valley, the proposed site of the Nordic competition.

"There will be opportunities there," said Jacob.

If the Games go ahead a lodge will be built there and there is even the possibility of a golf course in the area.

The entrance to the valley may also become a permanent residential area.

Jacob and other leaders of the Squamish Nation are focused on the future because so many in their tribe are young.

"We have 70 per cent under the age of 25," said Jacob.

"While the government outside is focusing on an ageing baby boomer population our leadership has to look very long term out into the future to try and create the kind of sustainable economies that are necessary for our people to thrive within our traditional territory."

Like all governments, said Jacob, The Squamish Nation is suffering in these tough economic times and is looking for new partnerships to help fund and promote the over 130 programs it runs for its 3,200 people.

Currently unemployment is low, compared to other First Nations, sitting at about 30 per cent.

"For us our objective is to get past survival and move to where we are thriving in our own territory and how we get to that position of thriving is through creating partnerships, creating that understanding," he said.

Jacob believes much of the success of the Squamish Nation can be laid at the feet of previous leaders who kept protection of the Nation front and foremost as they negotiated and grew.

He pointed to the more than 650 acres of land on the North Shore, which has never been developed thanks to leaders who thought of future generations instead of fast money.

"Our ancestors could have developed that land about 10 times over with people who walked through our door and said, ‘we have a deal for you,’" said Jacob.

"But… they were always thinking of the future. By not developing the land under those economies they gave us opportunities. So we have options a-plenty for our leadership."

Jacob was also excited about the recent protocol agreement between the Lil’wat in Mount Currie and the Squamish Nation which outlines their territories and the land both peoples have historically shared.

Jacob said leaders are currently looking for opportunities in the corridor for the future.

"I think the objectives for most is not only to take but to give it back, and I now that is a fact for our community," said Jacob.

"The real need in our community is to create an economy and to link that to our education system.

"We need to show our young people, here is success, you can do that.

"And we are moving there."

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