Transformations 

Rebirth of the corridor's First Nations

click to enlarge Graduates of the first Capilano College First Nations Tourism Program with former Attorney General Geoff Plant in 2004
  • Graduates of the first Capilano College First Nations Tourism Program with former Attorney General Geoff Plant in 2004

The simple fact of change is unavoidable. As people, we can influence, conduct and leverage it. We can regulate and politicize it. We can predict and trace it. Just the same, it doesn’t really belong to us. Systems, whether social, atomic, economic or galactic, simply change, regardless of any effort to freeze them.

As a pre-Olympics theme transforms much of the Sea to Sky corridor, change is clear and present. The usual suspects are crowding the levers: governments, private sector opportunists and activists. At the same time, an unusual profiteer as emerged in the form of the corridor’s First Nations.

Stories of transformers are common in both Squamish and Lil’wat mythology. Large and godly beings, transformers tweak the landscape for the benefit of the people. Sometimes, as around Green Lake, they transform people into stones; that, says Greg Bikadi, is what happened to Squamish natives long ago, when they wandered too far north into Lil’wat territory.

Soft-spoken with a round face and thinking eyes, Bikadi is president of Mount Currie’s Lil’wat Business Corporation. To him, the transformer stories offer a parallel to the nature of change sweeping through both nations.

Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob, larger than Bikadi in both size and volume, agrees. To illustrate, both men point to an economic rejuvenation, cultural renaissance and growth in partnerships.

The Whistler Olympic Park. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. The Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project. The Legacy Lands Agreement (LLA). The protocol between the two nations. The partnerships with corridor municipalities, the province and VANOC. These are the agents of dramatic, lasting transformation.

“It’s fascinating to watch this culture come back to life,” says Daniel Sailland, senior administrator with the Mount Currie Band.

Then and now

It’s sometimes tempting to herald a shift in relations with this country’s First Nations and the ancestors of their conquerors. Federally, there was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for the residential schools scandal, and, provincially, there’s Premier Gordon Campbell’s New Relationship, to name but two gestures.

Unfortunately, there are people like Pierre Poilievre, the fledgling Conservative MP who, on the eve of the apology, broadcasted bigoted remarks over the radio. There’s also Canada’s unfortunate membership in the league of four opposing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Again, those are only two gestures.

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