SLCC comes full circle 

Cultural centre opens final portion of exhibitory at upcoming open house

What: SLCC open house

When: Thursday, July 9, noon to 3 p.m.

Where: SLCC, 4584 Blackcomb Way

Cost: Free

The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre has been welcoming guests through its beautiful, carved doors for almost a full year, enticing tour groups, visitors and residents to check out the distinct culture, history and artwork of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations. But the centre is upping the ante this week, unveiling the final two aspects of its exhibitory during a special open house on Thursday, July 9.

On top of the existing galleries of artifacts and artwork, theatre and café that are already open to the public, the SLCC is finally ready to open the outdoor exhibits, which include replicas of the First Nations' traditional dwellings - the Squamish Longhouse and the Lil'wat Pit House, or Istken - and a forest walk tour.

The longhouse has a single sloped roof design with cedar planks for the sides and a roof tied to a timber frame with cedar ropes. The planks were not permanently attached, so the building could be taken apart and transported by canoe to different locations.

The Istken, on the other hand, has a unique cone-shaped roof. The Istken is made from a hole dug into the forest floor covered by crossed tree branches and filled with moss. The main entrance was by a single ladder through the smoke hole in the roof, while a secondary entrance was built into the side, hidden from view to allow elders and children to enter easily.

Josh Anderson is the HR supervisor and an aboriginal ambassador for the SLCC. He and the rest of the SLCC team have been busily preparing for the opening of the final exhibits, getting ready to guide groups on the full tour of the facility.

"Storytelling sessions are going to be taking place in the Istken and the longhouse is actually going to be our major craft area," Anderson explained. "...But (the new buildings are) going to be part of the tours, as well."

When guests visit the SLCC today, they can either wander through the exhibitory on their own, or join in on one of the regular group tours. These guided tours are led by the aboriginal ambassadors, who start the tour with a welcome song followed by a 15-minute video in the theatre, before guiding visitors through the indoor exhibits. At the end of each tour, guests used to be asked to make a cedar bracelet or rock painting. But since the ambassadors now have the use of the longhouse, they can offer up new activities.

"You're going to have a chance to do a moccasin pouch, and you're going to have a chance to make a paddle necklace or just a little rock necklace," Anderson said.

Now, the tour will wrap up with a trip outside to the longhouse, Istken and forest walk.

"We talk about the land, we talk about the trees and we talk about the water, and we talk about the weavings that we did," he explained.

Just past the replicas of the longhouse and Istken, guests can explore the forest walk, which features strategically placed rock paintings and culturally modified trees. This part of the tour is designed to demonstrate just how important the natural environment was - and still is, today - to the Squamish and Lil'wat people, as it provides clothing, food, medicines, and raw materials for housing and daily living.

Also a member of the Lil'wat Nation, Anderson is proud of the centre's accomplishments to date, sharing aspects of the First Nations' cultural heritage and traditions with the non-Native world.

"I feel we represent (our culture) very well, right from the song to the introduction," Anderson said. "What it feels like is we're taking away a lot of assumptions and we're giving the authentic spiel."

The new aspects of the facility will allow the ambassadors to expand their programming and share more of their culture with visitors.

"It's really great; it's exciting!" Anderson said with a laugh. "We're actually trying to find more things to do now, in the Istken, just because we just got used to the space that we're using in here, so its not like we're doing the same thing - we're adding more stuff. It's pretty great, and I can't wait to get it underway!"

Anderson and the rest of the aboriginal ambassadors will welcome guests to an open house at the SLCC on Thursday, July 9, between noon and 3 p.m., inviting them to sample food and crafts, and check out the new exhibits.

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