Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Native Cultural Centre boosts Whistler

Seeking some cultural enlightenment in the hedonistic, sports-crazy Whistler, B.C., my dearest and I wandered over to the Squamish-Lilwat Cultural Centre, an imposing and dramatic building set against soaring snow-capped mountains, that has quickly become a landmark since it opened in 2008. A large lobby with sweeping windows echoes a Squamish long house. Attached is a circular Lilwat istken, or pit house, its domed roof covered in native plants.
Drumming and a welcome song greeted us. We wandered amongst displays and large dugout canoes made from single old-growth cedar trees. We watched a film that explained the life of the two neighbouring nations and how they have lived side by side for millennia. A tour guide explained the difference between the cultures of the two nations. The Lilwat, more a forest people, traditionally wore leather buckskin clothing, while the Squamish, more a coastal people, built sea-going canoes and wore clothes woven of wool and cedar.
In the museum, dozens of beautiful ceremonial masks are displayed, similar to those used for thousands of years. “These masks,” explained the guide, “are used today in important ceremonies such as weddings and name giving. Next to the masks, two modern snowboards hung on the wall, decorated with bright traditional designs.
At the café, my dearest enjoyed a traditional salmon chowder accompanied by bannock infused with salmonberries while I wolfed done a bowl of venison chilli.
During the 2010 Olympic Games, the world’s attention will focus on Whistler. “The Olympics are going to be crazy, incredibly busy,” Sarah Goodwin, the training and program development manager told us. “These Olympics will have the greatest participation by indigenous peoples in Games history, and our Centre will be right at the heart of things. We are bringing in performers and artists from across Canada and offering story-telling and musical and dancing presentations. The public will participate in weaving and carving.”
We wandered behind the main building to a Squamish long house with cedar beams over three-feet in diameter. Youth ambassadors helped my dearest create a traditional cedar bracelet. Then we strolled along a forest trail with display boards describing various facets of this alpine forest and showing the close connection between native people and nature.
We departed, happy that the Cultural Centre has added an enormous dimension to Whistler and is ready to welcome the world.

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