Kwantlen artist Brandon Gabriel with the decorated drum he created for and presented to BC Hydro in thanks for the corporate contribution to the new Kwantlen longhouse. The mask above Gabriel's head was created by fellow Kwantlen artist Robert Thomas

Kwantlen Nation celebrates new longhouse

Kwantlen Nation was a beehive of activity Saturday for the grand opening ceremony of the beautiful new Kwantlen Cultural Centre.

Kwantlen Nation was a beehive of activity Saturday for the grand opening ceremony of the beautiful new Kwantlen Cultural Centre.

Built entirely out of western red cedar, the centre includes a longhouse, artifact repository, conference, and catering facility.

Friends and family from the Musqueam, S’tsailes and other First Nations bands joined in the celebrations which filled the longhouse room to its 200-person capacity. Many of the guests joined in the drumming and singing which lasted more than an hour as the guests steadily entered and filled the room.

Tony Dandurand, the heritage and cultural director for the Kwantlen, said construction of the facility had taken place over the past seven months. It is in a previously undeveloped portion of the Kwantlen Nation on Brae Island, and required significant fill to be brought in to bring it above flood plain levels.

It will serve the 200-member Kwantlen Nation, many of whom are youngsters and youths, by providing archival and educational services on their culture. The Kwantlen people had once numbered in the thousands, but as Dandurand noted, smallpox epidemics in the 1800s had killed most of their people.

“Our time has come and has been a long time in the making,” said Kwantlen artist Brandon Gabriel. “We deserve this, and I look forward to the opportunities to share, to learn, to heal, and to promote goodwill to the world around us, and good health for our community for generations to come.”

The centre was assisted by a significant grant from BC Hydro, which is working with the Kwantlen in uncovering artifacts in the Stave Lake area during the ongoing process of rebuilding the hydro dam there.

The most recent discovery at Stave Lake is a cedar basket, once used for carrying infants, that is in remarkably good condition considering that it is estimated as being at least 200 years old, possibly a thousand years old.

Gabriel built and decorated a drum with a BC Hydro logo inside a coastal Salish design, which he presented to BC Hydro in thanks for the corporate contribution to the new Kwantlen longhouse.

The longhouse has three tiers of seating in a circle around a modern wood stove, rather than the traditional open pit fires. Dandurand noted that open pit fires were rejected due to concerns about youths and elders with asthmatic conditions. The traditional dirt floor was retained, however, sections of wood flooring were laid down and these can be easily removed and stored under the bench seats when a traditional ceremony demands use of the dirt floor.

The all-stainless steel kitchen is fully modern and will enable the two Kwantlen catering businesses to expand. Their caterers also served a delicious, wide-ranging buffet dinner to the 200 guests, and it included baked salmon and bannock bread, of course.

Kwantlen elder Kevin Kelly thanked Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman for his support of the work of the Kwantlen, and Coleman returned the compliments during the ceremony.

Retired S’tsailes chief Willie Charlie (from the Harrison area) also expressed his admiration for the facility and said he hoped to also bring First Nations outreach programs to the Kwantlen centre.

First Nations from near and far drummed and sang for more than an hour as guests steadily filled the new Kwantlen longhouse to its 200-person capacity Saturday, for the dedication ceremonies. KURT LANGMANN PHOTO

MLA Rich Coleman (right) is greeted by Kwantlen elder Kevin Kelly (centre) and former S’tsailes chief Willie Charlie at the dedication ceremonies for the new Kwantlen longhouse on Saturday morning. KURT LANGMANN PHOTO

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