Squamish and Lil’wat find opportunities through Games 

"I think the world is going to view indigenous peoples very differently after these Games. But I think indigenous peoples are going to view the world very differently, as well."

- Tewanee Joseph speaking on the Bill Good Show Feb. 5, 2010

 

The list of legacies the Sea to Sky area has reaped from the 2010 Olympics is regurgitated quickly and often: an improved highway, international exposure, a huge fibre optic line, new sports facilities, employee housing and various other pieces of what are often called "infrastructure."

But a list of tangible assets pales in comparison to a less measurable legacy: opportunity.

For the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations, the 2010 Winter Olympics represent opportunity. That opportunity began with a protocol agreement between the two First Nations nearly 12 years ago.

"When the announcement came that Vancouver and Whistler were going to pursue the opportunity to bid on the Games," recalled Greg Bikadi, former president of Mount Currie's Lil'wat Business Corporation, "there were some short discussions on what we would pursue. Working together would create a lot more synergy and a lot more benefits for the two nations than working independently."

They identified common concerns. Whistler, where Squamish and Lil'wat traditional territories overlap, figured high in strategic interests. The Callaghan Valley was also a point of interest, as was the Elaho Valley, the Games themselves and the Land and Resource Management Plan.

Economic opportunity, for current and future generations, was key - with unemployment reaching 80 per cent in Mount Currie and with a large percentage of both nations' populations under the age of 25.

But economic development is only part of the story. Cultural rediscovery is equally important. The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre is ground zero for that reawakening.

"Getting rid of ignorance has always been something we've tried to do," said Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob. "You can't calculate that value in dollars and cents."

A seedling in 1997, the idea for the cultural centre first experienced promising growth with the protocol between Squamish and Lil'wat. Federal, provincial and municipal governments all came to the table with advice, finances and land concessions. Bell Canada and RBC Financial, both Olympic sponsors, also provided support.

Meanwhile, a foundation was being laid. A First Nations tourism program was established at Capilano University; it produced 15 graduates in 2005. Around the same time, the Aboriginal Youth Ambassador Project was launched, a program that produced a slew of envoys to work the centre floor, interacting with visitors and explaining the finer points of the nations' cultures. Basket weaving, carving and Salish weaving programs all came together at around the same time, each one training young minds on dying traditions.

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