Canada’s First Nations have relied upon their strong oral traditions to maintain and cultivate their rich cultures for many years, and that trend continues with the inaugural Spirit Within Festival, featuring performances, workshops and cuisine organized by the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC).
The festival runs next weekend (Sept. 28-30) at various locations around the Village in connection with Culture Days, which is also a first time event for Whistler and features free events throughout the community.
Attendees can sign up for a variety of educational and entertaining events including a drum-making workshop, a First Nations artists’ market and a salmon barbecue at the SLCC.
The event is a celebration of First Nations culture that Allison Burns, the HR and training coordinator at the SLCC, hopes will not only delight attendees but enlighten as well.
“A lot of people are unaware of the First Nations that live in the area and I think it’s a great thing to promote the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in the area that people would not know about otherwise,” she said.
Burns, who will also be showing off her cedar and wool weaving skills during an interactive demonstration Sunday, wants the festival to become a regular feature on Whistler’s social calendar, continuing the centre’s efforts to preserve and promote Squamish and Lil’wat culture.
“The work that’s being done so far (by the SLCC) is just a stepping stone for the big picture, because the things that we do now are only going to get bigger and better in years to come,” she said.
Another unique feature of the festival is Saturday’s Spirit Within Evening Event at the SLCC, which costs $45 for adults and $25 for children aged 12 and under. The soiree begins at 5 p.m. with an offering of traditional appetizers and other Native treats, with musical guests, Kalan Wi, a roots-infused four-person band that mixes traditional Lil’wat chanting with a wide variety of international sounds, like reggae.
“They are a great representation of how First Nations’ respect the past and bring that fusion to the future with their music,” said Burns.
After that, there will be a demonstration of traditional dancing — including a performance by three-time hoop dancing world champion Alex Wells — from troupes belonging to the Coast Salish peoples, a First Nations subgroup spanning from B.C. to Washington and Oregon that share certain linguistic and cultural traits.
Capping the fest’s second night is the Urban Lounge, a showcase of Native DJ’s, fashion designers and hip hop artists, namely, the hard-working Discreet da Chosen 1, a rapper of mixed African and Squamish descent who’s become a shining role model for Aboriginal youth nationwide.
The 29-year-old artist — whose real name is Leeland Askew — is a welcome addition to the rap world. As much an activist as he is an artist, Askew promotes healthy living through positive lyrics and social work that takes him around the country teaching youngsters how to write and record their own music, through his Walk Like a Warrior workshops.
“I really find satisfaction helping other people,” he said. “It’s not enough to just carry a torch, you’ve got to light other ones. I feel really good when these youth tell me that their inspired by me because who knows, maybe they’re gonna be the next rapping Native Justin Bieber.”
Spirit Within attendees can “expect the unexpected” with Askew’s songs, which draw on everything from traditional Native music to dubstep and house.
“You can’t just get by being a one-trick pony anymore,” he said.
You can also check out all of the Aboriginal art on display in the Upper Village, with the free Artwalk Tour wrapping up the festival on Sunday afternoon, which will take art aficionados to view collections at the Fairmont and Four Seasons hotels before returning to the SLCC’s own extensive gallery and gift shop.
Information about all of the events offered at Spirit Within between Sept. 28 and 30 can be found at www.slcc.ca, or you can call the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre at 1-866-441-7522.