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Olympics fostering a spirit of co-operation

Squamish Nation has big plans for Porteau Cove, their future

When Whistler and Vancouver were awarded the winter Olympics in 2003 many people saw how the announcement could benefit communities around B.C. First Nations were among those who saw the Games’ potential.

In addition to receiving 300 acres of Crown land and government support for a cultural centre in Whistler, the leaders of the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation see the Games as the catalyst for a number of projects that will improve their people’s lives.

The Squamish Nation, in particular, has big plans and the Porteau Cove development is an example of this.

The Squamish Nation has exercised an option to purchase a large parcel of land at Porteau Cove and it is now in the process of divulging the details of their plans to their membership.

Squamish Nation Councillor Harold Calla, one of the Nation’s chief financial officers, explained the hardest aspect of managing the band is ensuring that no opportunities are missed.

"A lot of the time it’s about resources and getting the right people because there’s so much that we have to keep in touch with," said Calla.

"Have you ever sat down with the government and seen the armies of people they bring?

"I think most businesses now are realizing that it is okay to consult with us. But a lot of people are against what we’re doing for our members, but a lot of people don’t know that we contribute $38-40 million a year to the community. We generate more than that amount of money but I would say 90 per cent of it is spent in this region."

Calla said Porteau Cove is an example of what can happen if developers and First Nations are diligent with the consultation process.

Porteau Cove is the result of a 1997 land-swap deal between B.C. Rail and the Squamish Nation.

Concord Pacific, which is also developing the former Expo lands in Vancouver, is in the process of partnering with the Squamish Nation to develop the waterfront property.

Calla said the Squamish Nation had not decided how they were going to use the land but he conceded that they could build up to 1,000 houses for their own members.

"It may be a blend, the Squamish Nation could secure that land for membership housing, or it could be for development, or it could be a mixture of both – we’re still in the process of consulting our members."

Calla said he expected a decision on Porteau Cove by Christmas.

"Between now and Christmas we intend to work those issues out with our membership and then we will talk more with Concord Pacific and no doubt come up with something of value."

Calla added that other developments like Porteau Cove would be forthcoming if the Squamish Nation continued to identify opportunities.

"I think from our perspective the hardest task is always working to realize our potential. How do we develop our capacity? How do we develop our economic ties to ensure services if we can’t live as a community? Because we have… customs and a language to maintain.

"How do we ensure that we can have more opportunities like Porteau Cove and at the same time remain sustainable?

"I think two often we can all take narrow views on certain situations because our direct focuses are different, but we can always get better synergy in the end result if we work together."

A spirit of cooperation will also help Squamish Nation increase and/or improve the 140 programs they already run, Calla said.

"We run all kind of activities and programs and 90 per cent of the ones we offer are subsidized by the Squamish Nation, the government gives us 20-25 cents on the dollar but a lot of that money goes back into the programs we have."

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly agreed that the Olympics were presenting great opportunities for First Nations to develop programs and establish relationships.

"I say to them ‘dream big’," said O’Reilly.

"I think we’ve laid a foundation some time ago with First Nations and now they want to work with people having that trust there in the community. I’m sure they’re going to go a long way."

O’Reilly and the Whistler council had spent a lot of time negotiating with First Nations about the cultural centre.

"We always tell them (First Nations) that Whistler’s interesting because more is not always better. Sometimes getting the right project, which can be smaller, is going to be more valuable rather than just getting the land and putting a bunch of houses on it.

"There are opportunities coming out of council and we’re willing to direct opportunities to them and developing partnerships for them if that’s what’s required.

"Obviously over the next five-seven years we would look to grow our relationship because the Olympics is a great show of sport, culture and our commitment to sustainability, which they should be participating in."