200 attend Cultural Centre Gala

The St'át'imc Cultural Centre project is one step closer to becoming a reality after a fund-raising gala on Saturday, June 4.

Almost 200 people attended the event, which included a preview of possible designs for the centre, a dinner catered by Faith Peters highlighting traditional foods, a silent auction and a jam and dance featuring local musicians.

Keynote speakers were Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and Chief Shane Gottfreidson of the Kamloops Indian Band. Chief Leonard Andrew of the Mt. Currie Indian Band was a last-minute addition to the speakers' list

Chief Louie offered 'been-there, done-that' advice on developing and marketing a cultural centre, while Chief Gottfreidson spoke bluntly about his belief that First Nations should put aside confrontational tactics such as blockades and focus on business and economic development.

The gala was hosted by the Lillooet Economic Development Committee and organized by the Upper St'át'imc Language, Culture and Education Society (USLCES).

As the gala began, people lined up to scrutinize seven possible designs for the cultural centre and vote for their favourite concept.

The designs were created by BCIT architectural students. T'it'q'et Community Chief Norm Leech explained that the students created the designs after USLCES asked them to devise plans that would lower construction and operating costs and maximize revenues for the centre. The society hopes to build the cultural centre in 2008.

The local architect-wanna-be's had fun reviewing the designs - comparing rooflines, and the size of the theatre space, questioning if access would be easy or difficult for elders, pondering how much light the skylights would let in and focusing on whether the designs truly reflected traditional St'át'imc structures.

Dinner included St'át'imc favourites such as BBQ salmon, roast venison elk with juniper berry sauce, sautŽed hakwa7 (wild celery), corn on the cob, bannock, and xusem ice cream and juice.

Then it was down to the serious business of talking about business.

There are two basic things I like doing creating jobs and making money, said Chief Louie.

He explained that the Osoyoos Band owns and manages nine businesses, including a construction company, winery, golf course, resort hotel and the Mt. Baldy ski resort. It employs hundreds of people, both native and non-native and plans to add 300 new jobs over the next five years.

Every council meeting starts with economic development economic development is at the top of our agenda the mayors and councils of Osoyoos and Oliver recognize us as the economic generators of the South Okanagan, stated Chief Louie.

First Nations have to develop economic power before they develop political power, he advised. You do that and you will have political power.

The Osoyoos Band recently developed its Nk'mip Desert and Heritage Centre, whose theme focuses on The Lands, the Legends and the People.

To test the market and the feasibility of creating the centre, Louie said his band first chose to establish a temporary centre lodged in trailers.

Focus group research and exit surveys revealed that visitors don't want to visit a museum or look at things on a wall. Instead, he said, they want cultural visits and experiences, they want to talk to people.

He also urged USLCES to decide if the cultural centre is to be a cultural and heritage centre for the St'át'imc community or a tourism/visitor centre.

To survive financially, he said cultural centres cannot exist as stand-alone enterprises. For example, he said the Nk'mip Desert and Heritage Centre houses a retail gift shop, a rattlesnake research facility and a theatre that can be rented out for live performances, video teleconferences and other events. It also offers interpretive tours of Canada's only desert landscape.

To complete the centre, Louie said Nk'mip had the assistance of the Village of Osoyoos, which secured the final $1.5 million required through Western Economic Partnership municipal funding.

That's a partnership that doesn't exist anywhere else in Canada, he explained.

Chief Louie welcomed the presence of Mayor Greg Kamenka and other municipal representatives at the gala and commended local First Nations bands and the District of Lillooet for working together to build partnerships.

Chief Gottfreidson also commended the municipality and local First Nations for building partnerships.

He said his band membership is 100 per cent behind the band leadership's decision to focus on economic development as a priority.

Every band member needs the dignity of a job and every band member needs the dignity of owning their own house, said the chief.

The Kamloops Band owns a land development corporation, a utility corporation, a petroleum gas bar, the Mt. Paul Centre (formerly the KXA) and is a partner with Sun Rivers Resort.

I urge you to get behind this cultural centre as something we need to showcase because we're proud as Indian people, Chief Gottfreidson said.

In his comments, Chief Andrew said proponents of the 30,000 square-foot Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre to be built in Whistler still had to conduct feasibility studies to support the long-term vision for their centre even with two million people coming through Whistler.

Bridge River Lillooet News April 20th 2005.

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