The ongoing efforts of local First Nations to share their cultures with their communities and the world at large has resulted in a venture that will not only enhance that mandate, but also provide a viable business opportunity for local and regional indigenous artists to gain valuable marketing and sales support for their art and their livelihood.
The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre  (SLCC) in Whistler provides guests the unique opportunity to experience the distinctive living cultures of the two First Nations. The spectacular building, set among the forest and mountains, has provided the physical conduit for renewal and revival of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations and now, that process has evolved into the virtual world with the addition of an online shopping portal featuring authentic First Nations’ products for sale.
The SLCC houses a successful gift store onsite and has now launched the shop.slcc.ca  site featuring a variety of works from a mix of local and regional artists available for viewing and purchase online. The site provides important access to the worldwide marketplace for both established and developing First Nations’ artists.
“We sell authentic First Nations art to customers from around the world who visit our gift shop and gallery in person here in Whistler,” said Casey Vanden Heuvel, SLCC executive director. “This site is an exciting opportunity to expand access and to further revitalize local First Nations culture allowing established and developing artists to display and sell their work to customers shopping from home from anywhere in the world.”
“Many of the artists profiled would not otherwise have access to a worldwide audience through a professionally developed and marketed online gallery.” Vanden Heuvel added. “The site therefore is purposeful on a number of levels: it will help increase the visibility and awareness of our First Nations cultures and remarkable artists, and will also be a valuable commercial tool for their artistic profession.”
Many of the one-of-a-kind hand-crafted pieces featured are on consignment in partnership with the artist with 75 per cent of the purchase price going directly back to the artist (the typical percentage received by artists for consignment sales is between 50 and 60 per cent).
Customers can purchase a variety of items, like the hand-carved yellow Cedar Grizzly Bear Totem, carved by Tom Harry of the Squamish Nation, the hand-carved and painted red Cedar Dzunakwa Mask (Wild Woman of the Woods) by Matthew Baker, also of the Squamish Nation and the hand-crafted porcelain pictograph and basket weave pottery by Patrick Leach, of the St’at’imc Nation.
Featured paintings include Victoria Harris’s (Lil’wat) Eagle Girl painting featuring an image of a young First Nations woman in the foreground and the shadow of an eagle in the background and the brightly-painted acrylic on canvas Fish Camp painting by Oliver James, also of the Lil’wat Nation and the Dene Tha’ Nation’s Josh Kolay’s Caribou in a Snow Storm.
In First Nations culture, animals are sacred and in representing the relationship between animal and man; many artists utilize animal symbolism in their artwork. More information about the First Nations’ animal symbolism can be found on the shop’s web site .
Carvings (boxes, feast dishes, masks, paddles, totems, rattles, talking sticks, wood and stone sculptures), cultural products (drums, leather and hide products and smudging products), textiles (baskets, blankets and regalia) and prints and paintings are all available to purchase on the site. In addition, clothing and accessories, home furnishings, DVDs and CDs, pottery, moccasins and mukluks, corporate gifts and children’s toys are also available.
The development of the online gift shop was made possible through Cultural Journey funding support provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada.