September 28, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Two First Nations legacies, one world-class centre 

Come out this weekend as the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre takes it to the Village with a new festival

click to flip through (8) Traditional welcome figures greet guests at the front entrance of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, in Whistler. Photo: Gary Fiegehen
  • Traditional welcome figures greet guests at the front entrance of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, in Whistler. Photo: Gary Fiegehen

The spectacular architecture that makes up the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre springs undeniably from the two First Nations heritages housed within.

The long rectangular two-storey main building which envelopes the SLCC's art and artifacts collections, its 80-seat theatre, art-filled shop and restaurant is Squamish Nation. It evokes the Tl'aktaxen Lam or longhouse of that Coast Salish community, whose traditional territories stretch from the Whistler area south, to Kitsilano in Vancouver.

On either side of the rectangle, making the complex look a bit like a percentage sign from the air, are two round S7istken or pit houses of the Interior Salish Lil'wat Nation, whose traditional territories stretch from Whistler northward to Lillooet. One S7istken covers an open space next to the restaurant, which is used for ceremonies and even weddings; the other is more traditional and is a space for workshops and storytelling.

Perched on the corner of Lorimer Road and Blackcomb Way in the Upper Village, the SLCC is a cedar, steel and glass beauty that fits within the west coast modern architecture tradition. Yet it blends in very different ancient ideas of what a home was to both the Squamish and Lil'wat people.

There is carbon-dated evidence that the nations lived together for hundreds of years at the village of Spo7ez, located where Rubble Creek flows from the base of Mount Garibaldi, 16 kilometres south of Whistler. The cultural centre echoes this provenance.

The ceremony that marked the birth of the SLCC in 2008 was full of pomp and confetti, with hundreds of guests and dignitaries, including federal culture minister James Moore and then-premier Gordon Campbell, singing, drumming and dancing to traditional songs with chiefs and elders.

The 2010 Winter Olympics and the many agreements between three levels of governments made it possible; five counting the chiefs and councils of both nations. That it could be more than a museum was the hope and aim the day it opened, and what has carried this through has been a coming together of many types of people for the sake of a building that is now a hub of a kind of heritage compact.

And as the centre enters its fifth year, kinship, family, and hospitality are no less important now than they were when it opened, than it would have been at the time of Spo7ez.

Those who run the centre will show off this legacy and hospitality at The Spirit Within Festival on Saturday, Sept. 29, an event that will take the SLCC to the heart of Whistler Village.

The 12-hour festival is a combination of food, singing, dancing and art and is meant to show off what the communities can do, where they are headed, and what this means to Whistler and the rest of the Sea to Sky Corridor.

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