In the lead up to National Indigenous Day today, Sunday, June 21, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's (SLCC) new executive director Heather Paul has been fielding plenty of questions about what the museum is doing to mark the occasion.
"Let's flip that on its head and ask the community: 'What are you doing for National Indigenous Peoples Day?'" she says.
For Paul and the 60 or so staff at the award-winning First Nations centre, the day is an opportunity not just for Indigenous Canadians to honour their culture and history, but for all Canadians to join the conversation — one that is more timely than ever with the heightened focus on race, policing and inequality that was sparked by last month's killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"I think it's a journey to Truth and Reconciliation, and this is the beginning of that journey. It's a journey people may be hesitant to go on because there are a lot of painful conversations that must be had and need to be had," Paul says. "Your first step into it could be to step into the culture of the nations and see how it's inspired everything around you, every day. You can close your eyes and imagine an orca whale, and most Canadians are imagining what is likely a First Nations drawing or interpretation of an orca whale. It weaves into our everyday life."
Taking over her new role on March 9, Paul was at the job for just a few days before COVID-19 forced the closure of the SLCC. The pandemic has since opened her eyes to just how "precedented" this kind of health scare is for First Nations across the country.
"That eureka I'm-an-idiot-moment was [realizing] this is not unprecedented, that they have lived through this before," Paul explains. "For us [non-Indigenous] Canadians, this is a new fear. For the nations, this is an old, old fear. This is a deep understanding for them, and we can look to them to help us respect how secure we're being. If anyone thinks we're overindulging on our caution, they can talk to anyone of Indigenous descent."
With the SLCC reopening to nation members on June 25 before welcoming the public back the following day, Paul is hopeful community members will see the museum as a critical resource.
"As heralded an educational centre as the SLCC is among our global visitors, I'd like to see it become that for our community," she says, encouraging Sea to Sky Corridor residents to become museum members. "I'd like to see it as a resource for wellness and reconciliation, and that step is about familiarizing yourself with the culture. I'd like to see them get to know our staff. I'd love the community to know our staff by name and by face as popular educators within our community."
The SLCC's Cultural Ambassadors have developed educational and musical content that can be enjoyed remotely on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Learn more at slcc.ca/national-indigenous-peoples-day.
An Indigenous Peoples Day vigil is also being organized by locals at noon, and will be held at Olympic Plaza.