Bell Canada contributes $3 million to Squamish-LilÕwat Cultural Centre 

Bell Canada, a 2010 Olympic premier sponsor, announced this week that it would give $3 million to support the construction of a First Nations cultural centre in Whistler.

"To me it is not a stretch to say the cultural centre exemplifies one of the foundations of the Olympic movement, the power of dreams and inspiration," Bell executive vice-president Stephen Wetmore told a Whistler conference room packed with Olympic officials and First Nations elders and youth.

The $20 million centre has been a long-time dream of the Squamish and LilÕwat Nations. Both nations are deeply involved in the hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics as many of the venues are on their traditional territory.

"This is a great day for our nations," said Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob who let out a whoop of excitement at the announcement.

Later Jacob said the IOC was impressed that the First Nations have been so meaningfully involved since the inception of the Games in Vancouver and Whistler.

LilÕwat Chief Leonard Andrew said he hoped the centre would also bring prosperity to First Nations people.

"It will create jobs and business opportunities and will proudly showcase our culture and values to the world," he said.

He said it also, "recognizes the historic and present day connection between the Squamish and LilÕwat people."

International Olympic Committee President Dr. Jacques Rogge was on hand for the announcement after touring the resort for the first time since the Games were awarded in July of 2003.

"It is a great moment," he said. "The International Olympic Committee has always insisted that there be inclusion and respect for the First Nations. This cultural centre will be very important to give to the 2010 Games your identity, your culture, your very rich history."

Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong said the involvement of Bell in the cultural centre showed how partnerships could work.

"This is an example of how people came together to do a great good for the people and for the country," he said. "It is a wonderful example of what teamwork looks like.

"I canÕt help think that pretty soon this venue, this facility, this piece of excitement is going to come up out of the ground and 20 years from now people will walk by and say a good thing happened here."

Construction of the centre is scheduled to start this spring.

The Squamish LilÕwat Cultural Centre will be modelled after the traditional architecture of WhistlerÕs neighbouring First Nations. It will stand on the five-acre stretch of forested land across from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at the corner of Blackcomb Way and Lorimer Road.

Last summer the federal and provincial governments announced a contribution of almost $8 million to the centre; $3 million from the provincial government and $4.7 million from the federal government. The cultural centre is still several million dollars short of its projected $20 million cost.

The centre will be a place to showcase both the LilÕwat and Squamish NationsÕ cultures to the world. Along with an exhibit space for canoes, baskets and carvings, there will be a mini totem pole park and a botanical garden where traditional use of herbs and plants can be demonstrated.

Revenue will be generated through admissions, cafeteria and gift shop sales, theatre shows and themed conferences, which will offset operating costs.

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