First Nations tourism seen as huge opportunity for corridor 

Provincial government makes sizeable investment in new Capilano College program

For four years Sam George trained and worked as a guide in the tourism industry.

Now at 35-years-old he has plans to start his own business in eco-tourism, but his adventures will have a twist.

George wants to take Sea to Sky visitors on a path of discovery, sharing the historical stories and traditional sites of the area’s First Nations communities.

"People want to find out the history of the land," said George, a member of the Squamish Nation.

"(There’s) whole history before the books."

A brand new program at Capilano College, the First Nations Tourism Management Co-operative Diploma, will help him on this entrepreneurial path.

The 18-month program was officially launched on Friday, March 12 at Totem Hall in Squamish.

George is one of 34 students reaping the benefits of this program and planning for the future.

"Everybody’s excited about the opportunities that are in front of us and where we’ll end up," he said beneath the tall totem pole outside the hall.

The provincial government kicked in $400,000 for the program launch.

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Treaty Negotiations Geoff Plant was at the launch last Friday, encouraging the students to take advantage of the program by finding new opportunities as well as creating them.

"If we can show the world (the) diversity of our province... (we’ll find) that people will keep coming back for more," he said.

"I think every time we create another success story... we show people that there is a great future for us as a province."

The program’s 34 new students are part of the Squamish, Lil’wat and Musqueam First Nations. They have been attending classes at the Squamish campus of Capilano College since the beginning of the year.

"(It’s) interesting, exciting and a lot of work," said George simply.

The students are going to class four days a week for almost eight hours a day. They are learning things like environmental stewardship, tourism marketing and tourism career preparation.

In the summer they must complete 500 hours in a tourism co-op before heading back to the classroom for more studies.

By spring 2005 they will have their diplomas in hand and a solid background to break into the tourism industry.

"It was kind of tough at the beginning," admitted Lorne Edmonds, a member of the Lil’wat Nation.

For the past seven years Edmonds has been working as a teacher’s assistant in Mount Currie.

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