Squamish and Lil’wat Nations ready to welcome the world 

Sneak peak of cultural centre reveals multi-million facility

click to enlarge Proud of Past Deanna Lewis, ambassador of Squamish Nation, proudly shows off the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre during February.
  • Proud of Past Deanna Lewis, ambassador of Squamish Nation, proudly shows off the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre during February.

When Deanna Lewis was a little girl, she didn’t know what it meant to be a member of the Squamish Nation.

She didn’t speak the language or know the history of her nation — it was as though her family was trying to forget.

It wasn’t until the eight-year-old Lewis started questioning her grandfather that she began to learn what it meant to be Squamish.

As she shares a little part of her story in the Great Hall of the soon-to-be-open Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre, Lewis’ pride of her past is etched on her face and the importance of having a place to tell the world about her community is evident.

“This is where we’re going to be bringing our kids to learn the culture — to share the culture and preserve it,” she said.

Though the grand opening for the centre is not scheduled until June 28, tours are available throughout February offering a sneak peak of what’s to come.

And while there are construction workers busily toiling away around every corner amid dust and noise and no artifacts or displays in place, the $20 million centre (based on 2005 figures) is already a site to behold.

The architecture is modeled after a modern day Squamish long house, allowing light to pour into the facility from massive windows. Imposing wood beams provide support for the structure.

Below the “long house” is a modern version of a “pit house” or the circular Istken — the earthen dwelling with a fire pit of the Lil’wat people.

The six-acre site, surrounded by a forest on one side and majestic mountain views on the other, will also house a traditional version of the two types of dwellings.

Rocks with pictographs will be installed near the entrance showing things like the sun, deer feeding and grizzly bear paws.

Lewis explains that as people enter two cedar carved doors — one representing Squamish Nation, the other Lil’wat Nation — they will find a huge replica of hand-carved spindle whorls that will be spinning.

The ground will be painted to represent a river with rocks and grass as it winds its way down the Great Hall. Along the journey through the centre people will learn about the art, song, dance, traditional food and regalia of the two nations.

Ambassadors like the charismatic Lewis will be on hand to welcome people in the official languages and answer questions.

An 80-seat theatre will play a 12-minute reel of the two nations through the day.

In the Class A museum space, icons of both nations will tell stories of both modern life and traditional life.

The most special room in the whole centre, said Lewis, is one that won’t be available to the public. It will be a place for the elders of both communities to go. The elders were extensively consulted throughout the process of gathering information for the cultural centre.

“That’s a thank you to them,” said Lewis simply.

Another facet to the facility is its capacity to host banquets for up to 150 people and receptions for 300.

“We want to add extra value to Whistler,” said Lewis.

As part of the Cultural Olympiad for the 2010 Games, the centre will be open for scheduled tours through the month of February during Whistler Celebration 2010.

The tours will be conducted every Tuesday and Thursday from noon until 12:45 p.m. and from 1 to 1:45 p.m. To sign up, contact Deanna Bell at sales@slcc.ca or call 1-604-898-1822. RSVP’s are required and space is limited.

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