First Nations hope to break ground on cultural centre in July 

The Squamish and Lil’wat nations hope to break ground...

The Squamish and Lil’wat nations hope to break ground on their First Nations cultural centre in Whistler in July, and plan to open the $18.5 million centre to the public in November of 2006

"We’re going to teach people that we can do this right," Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob said Saturday at a citizens’ forum on the cultural centre.

The centre, which will be located on the Blackcomb Benchlands at the corner of Lorimer Road and Blackcomb Way, is central to both nations’ plans for the future. It will house the more than 10,000 artifacts the Squamish now have in storage, but it will also be a centre for learning and interpretive programs. A theatre, museum, gift shop and restaurant are included in the plans.

Jacob noted that half the 3,200 members of the Squamish Nation are under the age of 25 and that First Nations populations will double in the next 15-20 years.

"We can not allow things to continue as they do today," said Jacob. "We’ve been left out of the economies of Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver.

"We need three things for success: land, resources and the capacity to understand and utilize the first two," Jacob said.

"We will be contributing to society."

Lil’wat Councillor Ruth Dick said the Lil’wat were ready to share with the world where and how they live.

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly described the cultural centre as the hub of a wheel with many spokes. "Lots of other programs will span out from this."

"This is a really important project," O’Reilly said. "We support this to the Nth degree.

"Success for me would be when the chiefs and mayors wake up in the morning and ask how ‘many people are in the resort, are they visiting the facilities, are they learning?’"

The cultural centre has financial support from the federal and provincial governments. The Squamish and Lil’wat have been fundraising for the project and forming partnerships for the last year and a half. Among the partners they are working with are Whistler Railtours and experts in botanical gardens.

Jacob said the majority of the funding is in place, but construction costs are climbing daily. The Squamish and Lil’wat plan to buy construction materials and stockpile them as a hedge against inflation. They also hope to start their own building supply company to hold down costs.

Lyle Leo, from the Lil’wat’s Creekside Resources, said a final business plan for the cultural centre should be completed by the end of May.

The building itself will incorporate elements of the traditional Squamish long house and the Lil’wat Eshkin or pit house on the 4.35 acre site. It will also incorporate environmentally-friendly building standards and will attempt to reach gold or platinum LEED standards. Leo said the LEED standards would add about $1.7 million to the project’s cost.

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