This is a story about the ties that bind. It begins long ago and continues to this day.
For thousands of years, members of the seafaring Squamish Nation and the interior-based Lil’wat Nation lived together in a shared village. It was called Spo7ez, in the heart of the present-day Sea to Sky corridor, located where Rubble Creek and the Cheakamus River meet and flow together. For a long time, the villagers lived in harmony—working together, trading, sharing—until one day, discord among the people began to grow. The Thunderbird, whose home is at Black Tusk, began to take note, watching from high above. The discord grew and grew until the Thunderbird decided to take action, flapping his wings and sending a message to the people in the form of a devastating rockslide that covered the village. Hundreds perished at Spo7ez. For those that survived to the tell the tale, the Thunderbird had a message: go back to your families—the Squamish people to the south and the ocean, the Lil’wat people north to "where the rivers meet." They would have a better chance of survival through the dark and cold winters if they returned to their ancestral homelands.
That could have been the end of the story. But the people took heed of its message.
"The lesson behind that story is that we all need to get along, that we need to coexist with one another peacefully in order to have a healthy future," says Lil’wat Nation member Sutikem Bikadi, belying her 21 years. "In order to thrive as First Nations people, we need to not feud with one another; we need to work together in order to have a strong future for generations to come. To me, that’s the main story behind all of this … Being able to stand together, rather than against one another."
It’s this partnership between the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations, forged in the ancient village of Spo7ez, that is flourishing once again, stronger than ever, particularly over the course of this past decade. As the exquisite, multimillion-dollar Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), located on shared traditional territory in the Upper Village, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, the story of Spo7ez, and its enduring message, rings truer than ever. The centre is the physical reminder of that ancient village and connection, cementing a significant place for First Nations in Whistler and their role in the future.
Rising from the rubble
It’s June 21, 2018. A small crowd gathers at the SLCC—tourists, local First Nations and community leaders. They’ve come to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, and celebrate through song and dance.
"Our celebration (at the SLCC) is a little bit small and that’s only because we’re running larger celebrations in the communities themselves," says Alison Pascale, curator at the SLCC as she quietly gets the cedar skirt and buckskin dress ready for the day’s performance.
The SLCC is the showpiece monument, the face of the nations for the world to see. But the heart of these cultures remains in their close-knit communities, the Lil’wat living in Mount Currie to the north of Whistler, and Squamish Nation south in the municipality of Squamish and Vancouver.
National Indigenous Peoples Day is an important day for Lil’wat and Squamish, a day of embracing and celebrating culture, a day of reflection on the oft-fraught dyamic with government, and on this new age of reconciliation. The cultural centre itself is a symbol of the new relationship.
As the performance begins, the sun pours into the large longhouse windows of the SLCC, fashioned after the traditional home, or Tl’aktaxen Lam, of the Squamish Nation Coast Salish people. On either […]
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