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The Lesser-Known Side Of Whistler: Learning About Lil’wat And Squamish Nation Cultures

Whistler is a destination known worldwide as one of the best places to ski and snowboard on planet Earth (while it’s ziplining, mountain biking, and hiking trails are also making this beautiful British Columbia spot into a summer destination, too). But there’s more to Whistler than the adrenaline jolts that come with flying down the side of a mountain. In search of a bit of culture to go with our outdoor thrills, we chatted with Kelly Galaski of Planeterra, the organization that supports the nearby Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, a place where travellers can join in on traditional tea ceremonies, snack on delicious bannock bread, and immerse themselves in two of Canada’s original cultures all while supporting the local Indigenous community.


What inspired the creation of this project? Why did a community in Canada, which we consider a pretty well-off country, need something like this?

Kelly Galaski: Canada is made up of many nations and lands that had cultures, borders, communities for thousands of years well before it was established only less than 200 years ago. Places like Whistler, where the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) is located, are based on lands that have a historical identity tied to the First Nations. The inspiration to open the SLCC came from the town of Whistler wanting to honour the original people of that land; [they] worked with the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations to bring the cultural centre to life.  A place like Whistler that brings millions of visitors and dollars in each year but has no benefit to Indigenous people of the region presents an opportunity to create a space where Indigenous cultures can be shared, youth can train for the hospitality industry, and income from tourism can be used for education and social entrepreneurship — that’s exactly what the SLCC does.

First Nations and Indigenous people worldwide are often oppressed and marginalized by the dominant society who colonized the land. There are marginalized communities in the richest places on Earth. Therefore, no matter what country, even if deemed “advanced” or “well-off”, there are people that have been excluded from opportunities and when included, flourish.

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Totem pole #whistler #explorecanada

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How has the project changed the community?

KG: The main benefit of the non-profit’s work, in addition to the dissemination of the Squamish and Lil’wat cultures to the visitors, is their Indigenous Youth Ambassador program. It’s an extensive, immersive youth hospitality and career development program where youth receive support to explore their potential. They’ve had much success in partnering with Whistler resorts and WorkBC in finding employment opportunities for graduates.


What about travellers: what should they expect from a visit and why should they go? What will they see, hear, learn, experience, and take away from their visit?

Travellers should expect to learn about past and present traditions, wisdom, ceremonies, music, language, and art from either a Squamish or Lil’wat guide. They’re welcomed in one of the languages with traditional drumming, see a video about the Nations for historical and present context, and then they walk through the centre before taking part in an activity. There are several activities to choose from — a tea ceremony, a flora and fauna outdoor walk, making different crafts like medicine bags, etc. They serve excellent food too; their local sockeye salmon and venison chili are not to be missed! As well, they have gorgeous art in their gift shop. Both are great ways to support the SLCC programs.

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Prior to opening the @SLCCWhistler, the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Lil’wat7ul Nations talked extensively with their people to see what would be shown in their collaborative cultural centre. Our territories are very different and this has shaped our lives; many of our values are the same but how we express them are different. The large wooden carvings at the SLCC’s main entrance were chosen carefully by the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Lil’wat7ul Nations: they are something that the two nations have in common, decorated spindle whorls. The whorls were used to add weight, to keep the spindle moving and to keep the wool together on the spindle. Our two nations used wood and stone, other nations or societies also utilized animal bone, clay, pottery, and metals. The diameter of the whorl determined how many twists in the fibre while spinning. The heavier whorls had more speed and force and were used for longer fibres. “In Salish spinning the spindle is pointed upward and the roving is drawn down towards the upper end of the spindle as the spindle is being turned. Tension results from this pulling of the roving as the spindle is turned to make the twist. Every time the roving goes over the upper point of the spindle it receives one pulled twist. This action of drawing down and turning was used for the spinning of all fibres throughout the central Salish area.” – Paula Gustafson, Salish Weaver 📷: Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives Image Title: A First Nations woman spinning wool #SLCCWhistler . . . . . . . . #ForGlowingHearts #WorkLove #SuperNaturalBC #BeautifulBC #ExploreBC #IndigenousBC #IndigenousCanada #Indigenous #FirstNations #SuperCulturalBC #GoWhistler #Whistler #LittlethingsWhistler #OnlyInWhistler #CulturalCentre #Culture #History #art #salish #weaving #firstnationsart #reconciliation #culturesaveslives #truthandreconciliation #tbt #Throwbackthursday

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