Since 2008 the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre has been helping Whistler residents and guests alike connect to the culture, stories and arts of the Sea to Sky’s true locals, The Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations.
On Thursday, May 17, 2013 that connection was brought to the next level as the SLCC opened a new “Pieces of the Past” exhibit featuring spiritual and cultural objects up to 3,000 years old and held a blessing ceremony to celebrate the “Spirits Within Carving Project” and the raising of 4 new House Poles/Welcome Figures in the Great Hall.
“The addition of these impressive carvings to our Great Hall and the launch of the Pieces of the Past exhibit proves that we continue to grow and succeed in sharing First Nations cultures from a museum development perspective and also demonstrates our importance as a cultural tourism attraction in Whistler” said Casey Vanden Heuvel, Executive Director of the SLCC.
The four massive yellow cedar poles were blessed in a no-cameras ceremony by Reverend Eugene Harry of the Squamish Nation. Speaking the traditional language and repeating in English, Harry explained the significance of preserving native culture through art and commented how nice it was to see so many children and babies amongst the crowd of 200+ people. “It’s important,” Harry said, “so their children’s children can also remember the stories of the people.”
Squamish Nation carver Xwalacktun, one of the four carvers honoured, echoes those sentiments. “The experiences that young people have kind of points them in a direction they might be interested,” he says. “When I was working on a Welcome Figure for the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola I had a young girl from England put her hand on the pole and I traced it then carved out her hand print. That 4-year-old girl is now part of the story, she will probably remember it and come back as an adult to say, ‘that is my hand.’ That gives the pole and the stories life. It’s passing on messages and learning through real hands-on experiences.”
Xwalacktun and his apprentice, Lenny Andrew from the Lil’wat nation, worked alongside the other master carvers throughout the winter, carving in sub-zero temperatures right outside the SLCC. “The challenge was it was so cold that it freezes the moisture in the log,” Xwalacktun explains. “So it was more like a block of ice with fibres. That makes it more difficult to carve.”
But doing the work right outside the Centre also meant hundreds of people could drop by and witness the culture and art in real time. “This is a House Post to tell a story,” Xwalactun says of his finished piece. “My story is about two groups coming together as one. One side of the pole is Salmon and the other is the Thunderbird and then the humans are meant to represent how we are all one. Lenny and I put both Squamish and Lil’wat Petroglyphs on there because here at the Centre it’s about getting together and being one.”
The other carvers honoured at the ceremony were Ray Natraoro, Aaron Nelson-Moody and Jonathan Joe. All the poles can be viewed in the Great Hall of the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre, which was recently awarded its second consecutive BC Cultural Centre and Attraction of the Year award. They also have an incredible café and the Tuesday Night Summer BBQ’s are one of Whistler’s best-kept culinary secrets.