First Nations cultural centre centre a step closer 

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Melamed said council should not simply assume that the retail and restaurant component of the centre will reflect the First Nations culture. He expressed concern that one day there could be a McDonald’s and a Disney store there.

"Believe me, we have been surprised in the past because we have made assumptions that things will be carried on in perpetuity," he said.

On the top floor of the centre there will also be space for 11 employee-housing units. During the peak season it is expected to employee about 25 to 30 members of the First Nations communities. The centre will also create other spin off jobs in the resort.

"It adds to the economy of Whistler," said Waugh.

"It enriches the cultural mix of what Whistler has to offer for tourism."

Another positive aspect of the project is that it recognizes the fourth step of the Natural Step framework, the high-level policy guide adopted by the municipality in December 2000 to promote more sustainable practices.

That fourth step is to "meet humans needs in our society and worldwide."

The cultural centre adds to that objective by including the neighbouring First Nations communities in Whistler’s activity and economy.

Following another increasingly common Whistler building principle, the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations are trying to incorporate some of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building practices on the site. The LEED system rates buildings based on certain environmental criteria.

"We will be aiming for LEED silver. We’re looking at ideas pursuant of that," said Waugh, whose company is one of the leading "green" architectural firms in Canada.

The actual construction of the buildings should take between 14 and 16 months, said Waugh. When the entire time spent on the project is tallied, Waugh said it will be about 27 months starting from the initial design stage to completion.

There is an extensive consultation process with the two Nations, which involves the elders, the chiefs and other community members.

"It needs to be presented by the Aboriginal people themselves because they are the rightful custodians of the land," said Waugh, who is also a status native.

"It’s a process of consensus."

Waugh says that process may be a little longer than usual.

"But you get a stronger product in the end."

To date the federal government has kicked in almost $200,000 to help fund various feasibility studies such as a topographical survey, a geo-technical study, an environmental assessment and an archeological assessment.

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