The Big Idea: A centre that embodies the spirit of partnership

There is an energy that emanates from Brady Smith when he talks about community and collaboration.

It’s an energy that seems to have found a perfect outlet in Smith’s relatively new role as executive director at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. In his first eight months on the job, Smith has taken his passions for First Nations culture and developing people to their full potential and channelled this into initiatives to reinforce the centre’s position as a valued partner in the Whistler community.

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Described as the place “where rivers, mountains and people meet,” the centre itself is founded on a partnership between two nations: the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation, so it is fitting that partnerships and community relationships are a key priority for Smith.

The centre enables the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation to preserve their cultures and to share them with others, so Smith’s commitment to nurturing partnerships within the community has the potential to create a rich cultural exchange.

Bannock and beer

One local partner ready to run with a new idea was Gibbons Hospitality Group. The Whistler Village Beer Festival organizers and Smith came up with an idea to combine bannock with beer to create an exciting new addition to their expanding event lineup.

“Bannock & Beer,” an afternoon event on Thursday (Sept. 17) will treat attendees to authentically prepared cuisine paired with local craft beer provided by the Whistler Brewing Company in a stunning cultural setting. Smith hopes the event will bring new faces into the centre and bring back locals who may not have visited for some time.

“The festival has a huge local following and it brings people up from the Vancouver (and the) Sea to Sky region,” said Smith. “It’s getting the right people in here. It’s a perfect platform for us to showcase that we can open up to functions, private galas and weddings. It’s also showcasing our catering. We’re doing bannock six different ways. We’re going to pair it, we’re going to do passed hors d’oeuvres and all the proceeds go back to our Aboriginal Youth Ambassador Program.”

The Youth Ambassador Program ensures the centre can employ aboriginal youth and provide them with world-class training, including opportunities to expand their cultural knowledge.

Connecting Fairmont guests to First Nations culture

This summer, a partnership with the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, resulted in the creation of the Salish Stroll, an interpretive pathway between the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and the hotel. The trail, designed to guide Fairmont guests and Whistler visitors into existing ethnobotanical trails maintained and interpreted by the centre’s Aboriginal Ambassadors, was made possible through funding from Fairmont CAREs, a program that supports environmental and social projects.

“Having Fairmont guests be able to walk from the hotel through the woods, understanding our flora and fauna, then coming here and seeing that setting come to life is a perfect partnership,” said Smith. “Having the Fairmont as one of our key partners has huge potential and it has got more people through our doors then we could have ever asked for.”

This is a unique synergy between a world-class hotel and a world-class cultural centre that both value rich traditions. The relationship is also helping develop centre staff. Smith leads a young team, with an average age of 22. For many, this is their first job, so working closely with a five star hotel as their neighbour is incredibly valuable.

“Service is key. Making sure that our service level is exceeding or at least equal to their service standards and ensuring that when a client of theirs comes here, then it’s seamless,” said Smith.

The art of story telling

On a regional level, partnering with Aboriginal Tourism BC has enabled the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre to elevate their presence as a tourism destination. The association promotes the growth of sustainable, culturally rich aboriginal tourism throughout the province and has showcased the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre alongside other aboriginal travel experiences while also providing Smith with valuable opportunities to collaborate with other cultural centres and destinations.  

For Smith, being able to leverage the power of the collective to promote the centre, provide marketing assistance, and share their story with a broader audience is incredibly valuable. Currently looking ahead to a rebrand of the centre’s cafe, Smith can leverage the association’s resources and expertise to assist with this special project.

“People don’t always understand who we are, everything we’re really doing and how we are a major stakeholder in the community.”

Being an active partner in a collection of aboriginal travel experiences is essential to elevating the centre just as community partnerships are the foundation for the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s success as a key cultural piece of Whistler’s resort community.

“The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is open for business. We want to partner with like minded people. These are things that we want to do more of,” said Smith. “People don’t always understand who we are, everything we’re really doing and how we are a major stakeholder in the community. So working with people like the Gibbons Group, the Fairmont, Four Seasons, Whistler Cooks, Bearfoot Bistro, they get who we are and they can share our story.”

Make business easy — tune in to The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in their sector.

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