First Nations groups to gather in Whistler to discuss strategies for tourism 

Aboriginal leaders are hoping to showcase Olympic bound athletes and strategize on how culture and tourism can be capitalized on at an upcoming conference here.

The $2.5 million Gathering on Aboriginal Cultures and Tourism is the second of three meetings focusing on aboriginal issues hosted by the federal Heritage Ministry.

About 350 people will be invited to attend the meeting, which will be held at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in early December.

"Since the Olympics are coming to Whistler certainly they will take advantage of that," said Heritage Ministry spokesman Len Westerberg.

"I believe that they are going to try and get the International Olympic Committee president as a guest and they are also going to be doing some aboriginal sport demonstration."

The meetings were arranged before Whistler and Vancouver won the right in July to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

"Winning the Games was just wonderful," said Richard Krentz, president of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C.

"It is going to give aboriginal people the opportunity to move 20 or 30 years ahead with just one little tiny step. People want to come and see us and experience our culture.

"We are going to get out there and tell people come and join us, you are welcome.

"The Creator has just smiled on us with this."

The conference, said Krentz, is key to the continuation by aboriginal groups of developing strong businesses in the tourism sector.

"This is a real Gathering," he said.

"We are working together, we are working with the government, and we are all on one page.

"We have tackled all these big issues and we need to get together and confirm that all the things we are doing are being done in the right way."

But not all First Nations people support the hosting of the Games and the increase in tourism it is sure to bring, said Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs

"There is a whole range of concerns," he said.

"There are very few economic benefits that flow to our people."

Philip said there is also a belief that the development of other areas such as Cayoosh Creek, north of Whistler, are being triggered by the 2010 Games.

"That proposal would not be viable if it wasn’t for the coming on stream of the Olympics," said Philip.

"There has been a camp in existence there for three years demonstrating their unequivocal opposition to that grandiose development scheme."

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