Of the three primary Olympic facilities that have to be built in Whistler, the athletes village, the bobsleigh/luge track and the Nordic centre in the Callaghan valley, the Nordic centre and the possibilities it represents is perhaps the most intriguing. That intrigue grew this week as Squamish Nation Chief Bill Williams told CBC Radio his people would seek court action if their concerns with the current plans for the Callaghan arent addressed.
The Callaghan Valley is claimed by both the Squamish Nation and the Lilwat as part of their traditional territory. The local First Nations have been part of the Olympic plans from the beginning, with representatives on the board of the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation and now VANOC. Early on in the process an agreement was struck whereby the First Nations would relinquish any claims to the Nordic centre area in exchange for a number of things outlined in a Shared Legacy Agreement. They include: 300 acres of Crown land; $50,000 toward a feasibility study on land location and development opportunities; $2.3 million for a Skills and Training Legacy project; $500,000 to a Naming and Recognition project; $3 million towards the construction of the First Nations cultural centre in Whistler; representation on the Legacies Society that will own, manage and operate the Olympic facilities after the Games; $6.5 million for housing, and a guarantee of contracting opportunities. As well, the province will contribute $3 million toward the establishment of an Aboriginal youth sports legacy endowment fund by next April and will provide funding through the planning processes for the First Nations to further assess their interests in the Callaghan Valley.
But late last month a lawyer acting on behalf of the Squamish and Lilwat wrote to the Environmental Assessment Office, which is reviewing the Nordic centre plans, and to VANOC to protest the current plans. Specifically, "backcountry legacy facilities, intended to be developed and constructed in the upper Callaghan Valley as an adjunct to the Whistler Nordic Centre itself."
Gregory McDade wrote: "These facilities go well beyond the original footprint of the Whistler Nordic Centre that the First Nations understood was being developed in the Callaghan Valley and was contemplated by the Shared Legacy Agreement that provided benefits to the First Nations in exchange for support of the Olympic bid process. These trails and backcountry facilities will have significant impacts on the aboriginal rights and title interests of First Nations in the area and must give rise to a separate duty to consult and accommodate prior to any approval of the project or an interim decision by the Environmental Assessment Office."
The First Nations are not alone in their concern that what is now being proposed for the Callaghan goes beyond the scope of what was proposed in the Olympic bid book. The proprietors of Callaghan Country, a private business that offers backcountry experiences and accommodation at its lodge in the upper Callaghan, see the backcountry legacy facilities as unfair competition.
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