The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

Great Spaces

by Janet Nicol

Among the trendy condos and hotel resorts at Whistler village
is a cedar and glass complex built into a landscaped hillside,
housing the cultural and historical treasures of two First Nations
groups, the Squamish and the Lil’wat. “The two nations have
overlapping territory in the Whistler area, and there were on-going
disputes,” says operations coordinator Josh Anderson. “In the end,
we decided to build a centre together.” He adds that combining
two First Nations groups under one roof is a unique concept.
Begun in 2001 and opened two years ago, the Squamish
Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s activities picked up speed when the
Olympics came to town this year — they represent two of the
four host First Nations in the area, so there were cultural events
on throughout the Olympics.

The Centre was designed by Vancouver architect Alfred
Waugh, with a focus on natural and sustainable materials. Visitors
are greeted by two carved welcoming figures before entering
through large cedar doors. Natural light
streams through the windowed
Great Hall, designed in the form of a traditional Squamish
Longhouse and decorated with massive models of hand-carved
cedar spindle whorls, a celebration of the Sqamish weaving heritage.
The hall is filled with cultural artifacts, including authentic
dugout canoes, and wool and cedar weavings.

The neighbouring Istken Hall is designed to evoke the traditional
underground dwellings of the Lil’wat people, a circular
space with a dramatic backdrop of forest and mountain scenery,
and a living roof. The space hosts artists’ workshops — carving,
weaving, drum-making — temporary exhibitions, and activities
for the Centre’s artist-in-residence program. A recent exhibition
included a canoe carved in 1975 by Charlie Mack Seymour, a
revered Lil’wat cultural leader and teacher, and a youth photography
exhibition displayed images on the theme of biodiversity.

Display pieces are all described in English, and the Squamish and
Lil’wat languages. “The Centre plays a key role in our cultural
revitalization,” Anderson says. “We’re teaching future generations
how we’ve lived.”

Reprinted from Galleries West, Spring 2010

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