Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre: Where Rivers, Mountains, And People Meet

By Kelly O’Connor

The Squamish (Coast Salish) and Lil’wat (Interior Salish) peoples have a long history of respectful co-existence, and now, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) in Whistler is prepared to share unique cultural experiences with visitors from across the globe. The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will take place in the shared traditional territories of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations this February.

The idea for a world-class cultural centre was born in 1997, and in 2001, the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations signed an historic Protocol Agreement, formalizing their joint commitment to cultural and economic development and co-management of shared territory. In 2002, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the Province of BC made a commitment to help the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations secure resources to complete construction, raise the profile of the SLCC, and provide opportunities for hosting Olympic and Paralympic events. VANOC’s support and encouragement led to additional interested in the project from Bell and RBC.

On September 26, 2005 Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob, whose ancestral name is KáKeltn, and Lil’wat Chief Leonard Andrew, Taya7, stood alongside BC Premier Campbell and representatives from Bell Canada, VANOC, and the Municipality of Whistler at the groundbreaking ceremony. On this occasion, Premier Campbell announced the provincial government’s commitment to double their contribution to $6 million dollars. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre now stands as a permanent legacy of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Long after the excitement of the Olympics has passed, the SLCC will remain, celebrating the rich histories of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. The centre is a not-for-profit organization created to preserve and share traditional and modern First Nations cultures, and all proceeds are invested in training and cultural revitalization programs for the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations.

Indigenous people have always walked softly on the land, believing that each part of creation has a spirit of its own. Elders teach that we should keep in mind seven generations ahead of us in everything we do, to ensure that we care for future generations in our present decisions. The centre is a “green” development using sustainable design and construction practices that symbolize the importance of responsible land stewardship, an increasingly important value in the modern world. The gorgeous three-storey complex of Douglas fir, cedar, glass, and stone stands among the trees offering spectacular views of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Its design resembles a traditional Squamish longhouse or a Lil’wat pit house (called an istken), and the entrance and the axis of the building align with the celestial points of the compass, as is traditional in First Nations cultures. Design and construction teams worked diligently to include elements to reduce energy costs, conserve water, and recycle waste. Materials were sourced locally when possible, and a planted “green roof” was used for Iskten Hall. The building itself was tucked into the natural incline to minimize excavation, and 64% of the land was preserved as natural habitat.

The SLCC is located in Whistler’s upper village at 4584 Blackcomb Way. Visitors can enjoy singing, a guided tour, a short film, craft activities, dancing, and storytelling. Special presentations are held at 11am and 2pm. Check their website (www.slcc.ca) for additional details. The centre displays a large collection of First Nations artwork created by extraordinary regional artists. Don’t miss the daily art demonstrations in the Great Hall!

Open daily from 9:30am-5pm, admission is by donation during the Olympic Winter Games from February 12-28th. The centre will be closed for a private event on February 13th, 19th, and 22nd.