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Northwest Nations gear up for the Olympics

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The 2010 Winter Olympics will turn the international spotlight on the Pacific Northwest. And numerous indigenous nations are taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase the region’s rich culture and heritage, as well as bolster economies.

The Winter Olympics will be held Feb. 12 – 28, 2010; the Paralympic Games follow on March 12 – 21. An estimated 250,000 people are expected to visit the region; the games will employ 5,000 and require 25,000 volunteers. About 1.8 million event tickets are expected to be sold. Some 10,000 media representatives will report on and televise the games to readers and viewers throughout the world.

The Olympic venues are in the territories of the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. There could be potential cultural and economic impact to those nations, which formed the Four Host First Nations Society to coordinate aboriginal involvement in the games.

The Four Host First Nations negotiated an agreement with the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee for the integration of aboriginal graphics into Vancouver 2010-branded merchandise and the licensing and marketing of authentic aboriginal art and products, a series of products featuring the Four Host First Nations logo and other products featuring aboriginal themes and icons, such as drums, canoes and paddles.

The government of Nunavut is the first aboriginal partner in the program; more than 1,200 Inuit artists will carve inuksuit in one of 11 distinct community styles or forms for the Olympics. Inuksuit is plural for inukshuk, a guidepost made of rock stacked in human form on the vast expanse of the Arctic. The inukshuk has been adopted as the emblem of the 2010 games.

The licensing and merchandising agreement, reportedly the first of its kind in Olympic history, will result in one-third of the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s royalties from sales of these products being contributed to a fund supporting cultural, education and sport initiatives for First Nation, Inuit and Métis children across Canada.

“Today is an important day for our people,” Four Host First Nations CEO Tewanee Joseph, Squamish, said in an announcement of the agreement.

“Together with [the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee] and our aboriginal partners, we are writing history by celebrating our diversity. Our young people are our future and we hope to inspire and support them as they build their dreams.”

Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong said, “We are committed to achieving unprecedented aboriginal participation in the planning and hosting of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and we are pleased to have authentic licensed merchandise that represents the culture of the Four Host First Nations and aboriginal peoples from across the country.”

The Olympics mean unlimited opportunities for Native communities on the U.S. side of the border as well, according to the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

Seattle and Vancouver both have international airports and are linked by Interstate 5. Between the two cities there are numerous regional airports and Amtrak rail service. Because of the region’s proximity and easy access to Vancouver, CTED expects communities within 150 miles may be affected by people heading to and from the games; Idaho reported an economic benefit of $100 million from the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, CTED reports.

CTED predicts that many travelers to Washington during the games may include Vancouver-area residents seeking respite from the chaos of the international event. Consider that cultural and heritage tourism is the fastest-growing tourism niche in Washington state, and Washington Indian country is perched on the edge of an economic boom.

About 51 miles south of Vancouver, the Lummi Nation – located a couple of miles west of Interstate 5 – acquired off-reservation acreage on the interstate for an 8,000-square-foot commercial and cultural center.

Named the Gateway Center, it will resemble a longhouse and have an artists’ gallery and studio, fresh fish market, gift shop and a small-business incubator. Construction began in September; doors will open in early 2009.

Gateway Center is a project of the Lummi Nation Service Organization, a nonprofit fundraising organization; and Lummi Ventures, an economic development program that was launched with a $6 million grant from the Northwest Area Foundation.

Sharlaine LaClair, executive director of the Lummi Nation Service Organization, or LNSO, said the Gateway Center will have long-term economic impact. The interstate location will give businesses visibility. The incubator will provide fledgling business owners with such services as accounting, coaching, insurance, marketing, rent subsidies, technical assistance and workshops.

LNSO also established a Community Development Financial Institution and revolving loan fund to assist young businesses.

LaClair expects the Gateway Center’s I-5 exposure and the Olympics-related traffic will give the center’s business tenants a major boost. “It’s a really good opportunity,” she said, adding that the second phase of the project is to build a commercial center in nearby Bellingham, a high-visibility location to which incubator businesses can graduate.

Lummi officials also hope the Gateway Center will draw visitors onto the Lummi reservation, where the 105-room Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa is undergoing its third expansion since 2002.

“We are already fielding phone calls [for rooms] from outside the country,” Marketing Director Aaron Thomas said in an earlier interview. “2010 is going to be an overwhelming experience for us. We’ve been participating in 2010 meetings in the U.S. and Canada and we’re doing a lot of research to keep our fingers on the pulse.”

Silver Reef employs more than 550 people and hosted more than 1 million guests in 2007 – about 1,818 guests per employee.

The hotel has 105 guest rooms, four suites, an indoor pool and an executive boardroom. Dining ranges from elegant to casual. There are two entertainment venues; this year’s headliners at the Silver Reef Pavilion included Christopher Cross, the Oscar/Grammy/Golden Globe-winning singer and Pablo Cruise. The Spa at Silver Reef has a fitness center, sauna, steam room, treatment rooms and whirlpool.

The 9,000-square-foot expansion will allow for an additional 200 slot machines – for a total of almost 900 – an additional restaurant and a specialty coffee bar.

The Upper Skagit Tribe has numerous dining, entertainment, lodging and recreational venues in place.

Upper Skagit manages Semiahmoo Resort Golf Spa, 37 miles south of Vancouver; and Loomis Trail Golf & Country Club in Blaine, just south of the U.S./Canada border. Semiahmoo and Loomis Trail are rated as two of the best courses in the state; Loomis Trail made Golf Digest’s list of the Top 100 courses in the U.S.

In Bow, 72 miles south of Vancouver, Upper Skagit owns Skagit Valley Casino Resort and the Skagit Ridge Hotel.

Between Semiahmoo, Skagit Valley Casino Resort and Skagit Ridge, Upper Skagit offers a total of 342 rooms and five restaurants, as well as seaside activities, entertainment, gaming and golf. The number of rooms is surpassed on the I-5 corridor only by the Tulalip Resort Casino Hotel & Spa in Quil Ceda Village.

The Tulalip Tribes’ Quil Ceda Village, located about 113 miles south of Vancouver, has emerged as a Northwest destination.

Its 12-story, 370-guestroom hotel is the largest between Seattle and Vancouver; its 14,000-square-foot spa, with 16 treatment rooms, is one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest. The hotel’s upper floors have views of Mount Rainier to the south and Mount Baker to the north. Tulalip culture is a prominent feature throughout; three two-story house posts grace the interior entrance, and the hotel is decorated with $1 million worth of Tulalip art.

The hotel opened Aug. 15. Adjacent to the hotel and spa are the Tulalip Casino, which is also a showcase of cultural art; the Tulalip Amphitheater, and Seattle Premium Outlets, the largest outlet mall in Washington state. Nearby is Tulalip’s Battle Creek Golf Course.

Not all cultural and economic development projects were planned because of the Olympics, but their timing is opportune.

In Seattle, 141 miles south of Vancouver, the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center is now open.

The 6,000-square-foot longhouse is the first longhouse to grace Seattle’s landscape since 1894. The interior has ceremonial space, exhibits, a commercial kitchen, gift shop and upstairs offices. Exhibit designer Andrew Whiteman of the Burke Museum curated the first exhibit.

Duwamish Chairwoman Cecile Hansen is a great-great-grandniece of Sealth, the Duwamish/Suquamish leader for whom the city of Seattle is named. She hopes the longhouse will clarify Duwamish’s status as the First People of Seattle, showcase the return of Duwamish culture and language, and increase awareness of the Duwamish Tribe.

A possible name for the longhouse: “House of Duwamish.”

“There is no place in Seattle that says ‘Duwamish,’ except for the river,” Hansen said. “We’ve wanted to build this longhouse for 30 years. This is a big coup.”

The longhouse will not only provide ceremonial space, but will provide long-term economic opportunities as well. The commercial kitchen will prepare Native foods for catering and events. And the site will host conferences, meetings and other events.

Jamestown S’Klallam is located near the Olympic Peninsula city of Sequim, on the edge of that 150-mile radius from the games. But it has positioned itself as an alternate 2010 destination.

Jamestown S’Klallam acquired Dungeness Golf Course in January 2007, adding to its recreation offerings; Jamestown S’Klallam also owns 7 Cedars Casino, two art galleries and a host of other businesses.

Located on 122 acres in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness Golf Course – 6,456 yards, 18 holes – is considered one of the top courses in the state because of its year-round playability. Since acquiring the course, Jamestown S’Klallam has updated the cart fleet, improved cart paths and built a new clubhouse.

Families willing to travel a bit farther for pre- or post-Olympics adventure might visit the Great Wolf Lodge owned by the Chehalis Tribe, on Old Highway 99 in Centralia.

Great Wolf Lodge is located 219 miles south of Vancouver – outside the 150-mile radius, but with $100 million in development costs, 398 guest rooms and one of the largest indoor water parks in the U.S., it may end up on the itinerary of Olympic passersby.

Great Wolf Lodge opened April 18. Besides water slides, tube rides and wave pools, the Northwoods-themed resort has casual family restaurants, a gift emporium, an animated show, spas for adults and children, an arcade, daily activities and storytelling, and MagiQuest, the first live-action, fantasy adventure game of its kind.

There’s also a 30,000-square-foot conference center with ballroom, business center, catering and meeting rooms.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.

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