For decades, Squamish BC has always been an insignificant little town that sits between Vancouver and Whistler BC. Things remained pretty much the same even as Whistler morphed into an international skiing mecca and playground over the last 20 years. For the vast majority of travelers on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, there are no compelling reasons to stop over at Squamish except to buy gas or food or maybe a little sightseeing at Shannon Falls or nearby areas for some rock-climbing and cliff-diving. But quietly step by step, Squamish is asserting itself and extending its influence. Government legislation changes have largely been responsible for the rise of the Squamish Nation. To its credit, the native band was also very eager to improve its livelihood as well.
First in 2002, to facilitate the 2010 Olympic bid, Squamish and Lil’wat Nations entered into an Olympic Legacy Agreement with the BC provincial government and the 2010 Olympic bid corporation that would provide the two First Nations a wide range of benefits. The agreement enabled a transfer of 300 acres of provincial Crown land into the First Nations’ possession as fee simple private properties, millions in funding to help build a cultural centre, economic development opportunities, aboriginal tourism training and the joint operation of the 2010 Olympic legacy facilities including the Whistler Sliding Centre that was used for bobsled and luge competitions.
A landmark 2002 BC Court of Appeal decision also granted Squamish Nation the rights to a prime piece of real estate property near downtown Vancouver that the CP Railway company claimed as its own in 1886, the year Vancouver was incorporated as a city. This piece of land (8.67 acre) is situated at the south end of Burrard Bridge and the western tip of Granville Island. It is currently being developed by the Squamish Nation which may one day consists of condo towers that could alter the city’s skyline.
Recently, another ruling victory for the Squamish Nation was the passage of the Bill C-24 amendments by the federal government which means that the First Nation could now own commercial land titles with certainty on Indian reserves just like any other private lot on city land across the country. This would enable Squamish to more easily attract investments for those development projects. Already the Indian band is moving ahead with plans to develop a number of condo towers near the Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver. Squamish intends to provide some of these units as social housings, particularly for the younger generation which makes up of about 60% of its population. Since these properties are on Indian reserves, city zoning by-laws do not apply. Squmaish could do as they please with these properties to maximize profits which has caused quite a bit of controversy in the past.
Have you been traveling on the Sea-to-Sky Highway lately? The signs are now bilingual – English and indigenous names sitting side by side. Just a couple of weeks ago, a Squamish Nation elder suggested that Vancouver’s world-famous Stanley Park should be also named as Xwayxway (pronounced as kwhy-kway) in the First Nation language as the 1001 acre urban oasis was where the Coast Salish people had lived for thousands of years long before Captain George Vancouver visited the Burrard Inlet and subsequently, settlers and immigrants from all over the world who arrived later.
It is becoming clear that Squamish BC is not only making itself more well-known, it is also extending its power and influence into another jurisdiction like Vancouver for example. The emergence of the Squamish Nation especially after the Olympics is just another indication that the 2010 Games legacy is not the exclusive domain of Vancouver and Whistler. Other communities can stake their own claim to bring about growth and prosperity.
[Backgrounder: The Squamish Nation was formed in July 23, 1923 when 16 chiefs who were descendants of various Coast Salish tribes signed an amalgamation and agreed to be grouped together to guarantee equality and to ensure good government. The Coast Salish aboriginals lived in the present day Greater Vancouver area, Gibson’s Landing and the Squamish River watershed.]
Two First Nation chiefs at the Squamish Nation Youth Pow Wow 2010 all decked out in full regatta.
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