Community members provide blessing as Líl̓wat Nation breaks ground on Function Junction development
Story by Mean Lalonde
Photo by Calling Mountain Productions
Reprinted from the Whistler Question
OCTOBER 23, 2017 07:17 PM
On Sunday (Oct. 22), members of Líl̓wat First Nation gathered in Function Junction’s forest to give thanks to the land that will soon become home to the Nation’s newest development.
The afternoon marked Líl̓wat Nation’s final opportunity to bless the land before crews arrived on Monday to begin clearing trees from the site. About 25 people attended the blessing ceremony, held under drizzling fall skies, to witness the Líl̓wat members sing, dance and give thanks with songs handed down through the generations.
It was an emotional day that marked an important stride in economic development for the community, said Líl̓wat Nation council member Maxine Joseph Bruce. The development aims to bring new jobs and an increase in revenue, and therefore services, to the local First Nation.
The 2.15-hectare parcel of land, located adjacent to Highway 99 and Alpha Lake Road across from the Re-use-it Centre, has been part of Líl̓wat’s holdings for the last decade, and solely owned by the Nation since 2010. The Nation’s request for a development permit to build the new gas station and a mixed-use residential/commercial building was approved by the Resort Municipality of Whistler at an Oct. 3 council meeting. The gas station and four buildings outlined in the proposal are scheduled to be built over the course of the next three to four years.
“The Líl̓wat Nation is moving forward with economic development,” Bruce said during the ceremony. “This is our opportunity for nation building. We’re going to be making our mark on our land and there’ll be more Líl̓wat presence within the traditional territory, mainly in the south where we are right now… This area has been occupied by the Líl̓wat people since time out of mind, so that’s why it’s very emotional for me.”
“This is our opportunity for nation building. We’re going to be making our mark on our land and there’ll be more Líl̓wat presence within the traditional territory .”
As Graham Turner, retail operations manager with the Líl̓wat Business Group agreed, Sunday wasn’t a typical Whistler groundbreaking ceremony. “We’re always thinking about the community and the jobs. It’s not a traditional build… All those monies come in and go back out to the Nation and provide jobs,” Turner said. “Even when I teach my staff, they’re not just working behind the till, they’re creating a better business and better future for their kids. Hopefully, this place will flourish as Líl̓wat gas station, not just your average Chevron. I’m just proud and honoured to be a part of this.”
Following Monday’s official groundbreaking, developers said they’re on track to clear the site of trees, complete their final analysis of the land, strip its top layer and bring in fill before winter hits. “That’s probably going to be all we’re going to be able to do before the snow comes,” explained Carlos Zavarce, a planner with Squamish Cornerstone Developments Ltd., the developer with whom Líl̓wat Nation has partnered on the project. “Phase two, in the spring will be bringing all the services in.”
If all goes according to plan, the land will provide for the Líl̓wat people for years to come — in more ways than one. While developers are being careful to preserve a few of the existing trees on site — there will also be a 20-metre barrier of trees between the highway and the development — Líl̓wat Nation members also requested that any roots from cedar trees removed during excavation be preserved. When dried out, the roots can be used to weave baskets.
As Líl̓wat elder Martina Pierre expressed during the blessing, “This is a special day to make sure we’re welcome here on our own traditional territory and to make sure our ancestors know we are here to reclaim our land and protect it as best we can, the way that it’s meant to be protected.”