Take a Cultural Journey

The storytelling traditions of the Squamish and Lil’wat peoples are mostly oral but committing the stories and legends of the First Nations peoples who have inhabited the Sea to Sky Corridor for thousands of years to writing, and sharing them on signs and kiosks along Highway 99, has helped spread those legends to a much wider audience. Those who drive the Sea to Sky Highway northward from Horseshoe Bay will notice that the green signs showing distances include both the English names, such as Whistler and Squamish, along with the aboriginal languages of the Squamish and Lil’wat — for example, Skwxwú7mesh for Squamish and Skwikw for Whistler. The entrance to each community is punctuated by a stone marker with both the English and aboriginal name. The markers, as well as roadside interpretive kiosks detailing the Squamish and Lil’wat legends associated with various landmarks, are part of the Sea to Sky Cultural Journey. Launched in 2008, the initiative aims to help visitors appreciate the rich traditions and living cultures of the people who have inhabited the area since time immemorial.

At five northbound points of interest along Highway 99, and two southbound, guests can learn more about Squamish and Lil’wat legends. For example, at the southbound Tantalus overlook, visitors will learn that this is where Tl’elhnayem — elite alpine navigators — trained to hunt mountain goats and are now immortalized, along with their hunting dogs, in the towering granite peaks of the Tantalus mountain range.

“The main purpose of those (kiosks) is to educate the global visitors to the Sea to Sky region that that they are in the unceded traditional territories of the Squamish and Lil’wat nations,” said Brady Smith, executive director of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) in Whistler. “It’s really meant to point people to us here at [the SLCC]; so that if people want to learn more about our vibrant cultures and traditions, you can stop here, you can meet one of our Cultural Ambassadors, meet a First Nations person and learn that the Indigenous people are still here today and will be forever.”

The Squamish, part of the Coast Salish group of First Nations, and Lil’wat, part of the Interior Salish, claim large swaths of land as their ancestral territories. The two nations’ territories overlap in the mountainous area around Whistler, which was traditionally used for hunting, berry picking and “vision quests” known in the Squamish tongue as P’ayakentsut and have a long history of peace, friendship and cooperation. They were among the Four Host First Nations (along with the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh) during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

Two new kiosks are set to open along Highway 99 in the coming months — in the Lil’wat community of Mount Currie and at Joffre Lakes, the latter serving as a “welcome” entry/exit point to the nations’ traditional territories.

For more information, visit slcc.ca.

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