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Canada's indigenous people like you've never seen them before

VANCOUVER — Imagine a humungous snowglobe, and that's sort of what the Four Host First Nations' pavilion will look like during the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics.

Conceptually, it's worlds away from totems, teepees and feathered head dresses. It's purposeful. Everything from the design to the pavilion's $2.5-million-worth of programming to the food served in the $3.5-million pavilion is meant to honour the past, but showcase what Canada's indigenous people are doing now and with a glimpse of what their future aspirations are.

The white dome will have a 20-metre circumference and soar five-storeys-high above the courtyard at Queen Elizabeth Theatre and be anchored by a wooden structure. It will be February before the dome is inflated. But the wooden structure, which will be relocated following the Games, is already assembled and on Monday, media, first nations and government representatives had a chance to see it.

Some may read the dome as a reference to the snow-block houses of the Inuit. Chief Leonard Andrew says it reminds him of the subterranean houses that Lil'wat people used to build for the winter.

Chief Bill Williams of the Squamish says the superstructure reminds him of Coast Salish longhouses so does Wade Grant. Grant, a Musqueam, is assistant general manager of the pavilion.

The curving ëlonghouse' will have an elders' lounge and 1,500-square-foot, trading post for the art and crafts of indigenous people from across Canada as well as an elders' lounge.

West Vancouver artist Xwa-Lack-Tun's work will be there. His designs were chosen for Olympic-logo scarves, toques, T-shirts, gloves and bags that are already on sale at The Bay. Coast Salish designs aren't well known. Xwa-Lack-Tun says Coast Salish in the past were more secretive about their art and traditions. But this is a chance to showcase them and for people to broaden their appreciation for the diversity of first nations' art.

The pavilion will host what Grant calls the world's largest potlatch with songs, dancing, stories and food.

Potlatches are about sharing, he says.

But Grant says the pavilion is a celebration of the partnerships that have forged because of the Olympics.

The FHFN (Squamish, Musqueam, Lil'wat and Tseil-Waututh) have been full participants since Vancouver put its bid together. It was the first time they had all worked together. Uniquely, the Coast and Interior Salish then invited all of Canada's indigenous people to participate. As a result, the pavilion will showcase every first nation as well as the Dene, Inuit and Metis.

And it won't just be arts, crafts, performers including Buffy Ste. Marie have been invited. There's a business showcase as well.

It's hard to imagine how there will be both time and space for all that's planned. Almost as difficult as imagining how the thin-skinned dome will look at night with images projected on the inside and visible on the outside with the sounds seeping through as well.

But here's another way to try to understand what the pavilion is trying to achieve. Read the restaurant menu.

Hors d'oeuvres include seaweed and smoked salmon cucumber rolls; pemmican on bannock canapes with Saskatoon berry coulee; asparagus spears wrapped in musk ox prosciutto.

There's first nation's paella with venison sausage, mussels, shrimp and wild rice; roast bison with fiddleheads, pasta with wild garlic, seaweed and shiitake cream sauce; and, bison or elk chili.

The wine list features selections from Nk'Mip Cellars, Canada's first aboriginal winery and resort in Osoyoos, B.C.

It's fusion.

It's Canada's indigenous people like you've never seen or conceived of them before.

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