Planning Whistler’s future includes understanding First Nations plans

Last November municipal hall produced an analysis of Crown lands within Whistler’s municipal boundaries as part of phase 2 of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. You may recall the five possible futures for Whistler presented at that time: No new development; resident housing in the existing corridor; a new neighbourhood in the Callaghan; a diversified economy; increased market housing.

Early in April a report was presented to Whistler council which analyzed another 61 sites within municipal boundaries, mostly privately owned lands but also some small Crown land sites. The intent was to see how these lands might fit into the CSP and future resident housing plans. The report could also be used to help determine parts of Whistler’s Olympic legacy, including selecting 300 acres of Crown land and a site for the athletes village.

Council received the analysis of private lands with very little comment. Only Councillor Ken Melamed raised some concerns and suggested that groups like AWARE should review the report.

The Olympic organizing committee, VANOC, still hasn’t announced a site for the Whistler athletes village, although the word is that the lower Cheakamus site is now being eyed. The Cheakamus site fits with public input from phase 2 of the CSP, namely that "resident housing in the existing corridor" was the overwhelming preference among the five futures.

But while Whistler has been working its way through lengthy analyses of Crown and private lands and determining its preferred future, there’s another group that has also been assured 300 acres of Crown land by the province as an Olympic legacy: the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations.

The fact that First Nations have been included in the Olympic planning from the beginning is to be applauded. It is the right thing to do. The Games and the legacies from the Games should provide opportunities to strengthen the Squamish and Lil’wat communities while also breaking down barriers between First Nations and non-native people,

However, in the admittedly smaller exercise of planning Whistler’s future the First Nations have not been heard from. This may or may not be an issue, but as Whistler analyzes Crown and private lands and determines its preferred future it would be helpful to know how the Squamish and Lil’wat see their futures.

The general assumption has been that the Squamish and Lil’wat would like Crown land in the Callaghan, in the vicinity of the Nordic centre. It should be remembered, however, that the conditions attached to the First Nations’ 300 acres and those attached to Whistler’s 300 acres are not the same. Whistler’s Crown land must be used for resident housing and related facilities. The First Nations’ land can be used for commercial purposes. This could lead to opportunities for both Whistler and the First Nations if they work together.

It could also lead to some friction if the Squamish and Lil’wat have plans that don’t fit with Whistler’s preferred future.

But there is a good precedent for a co-operative approach. Federal, provincial and municipal governments have worked with the Squamish and Lil’wat to make land and funding available for a First Nations cultural centre near the base of Blackcomb. The cultural centre should be an example of native-non-native co-operation and a point of pride for all by the time of the Olympics in 2010.

This same spirit of co-operation would serve First Nations and Whistler well in planning their futures.

• • •

Last week in this space I wrote: "…there has been some debate over the depth, timing and appropriateness of a full review of municipal operations. To date, no commitment to such a review has been made."

In fact, Whistler council has committed to doing full-scale review of municipal operations in 2005. Money for that review is included in the proposed five year financial plan.

Councillor Nick Davies, in pointing out my error, said the majority of council felt there was no point in doing the full review until after the CSP is completed.


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