There's a building in downtown Vancouver B.C. that is Victorian on the bottom – and First Nations longhouse up top. But it's what's inside that makes the Skwach`ays Lodge hotel one of a kind.
"It's a phenomenal story,” said David Eddy, CEO of Vancouver Native Housing Society, a charitable organization that works with Canadian government entities to provide housing to urban Aboriginals.
This hotel near Vancouver's Gastown neighborhood is Canada's first Indigenous art and culture hotel.
It has 18 rooms designed by First Nations artists. Each unique room tells a story.
Like the Water suite – where a whale sculpture greets you in the entrance, and furnishings come from the forest.
Or the Sea Kingdom suite – with a carved otter, cedar carvings and underwater colors.
This hotel has been incredibly popular since it opened in 2014.
"Last year our occupancy rate was 84%. We're sold out tonight, we will be sold out, essentially, until the end of September," said Eddy.
In the same building where visitors pay from $150 to $300 per night, are low income apartments that house First Nations artists.
Along with a studio where they create art, and a gallery where they can sell it. The entire enterprise pays for itself.
"We provide the subsidy from the profits of the hotel and gallery for the 24 Indigenous artists. We charge them what we call the shelter rate of social assistance, which is essentially welfare. It's 375 dollars a month for rent,” said Eddy.
“It's so great to have a sense of community, so it really feels like we all lift each other up, we all go to each other's shows, telling other people about different things, it' s been really good,” said Gillian Thomson, a singer with Haida ancestry who fronts the band Sister Says. She lives in one the apartments here. "The thing that I love most about this place is that it's all Indigenous designed rooms, it's a social enterprise, so it's not money from the government. All the money that subsidized the artists’ living is made from sales in the gallery and from hotel sales, which is pretty amazing."
More traditional visual artists like Maynard Johnny Jr. also live here – he's a Coast Salish from Campbell River, with some family ties to the Puyallup Tribe. Maynard has lived at Skwach`ays for a little more than a year – and says it's helped him grow more successful as an artist:
"Of course, I've become an artist because I'm talented at it, the obvious reasons, I want to make a living. But it's also a great way for me to share my culture, the beauty of who my people are and where I come from,” he said as he painted on a deerskin drum in the hotel’s studio. He added that the hotel’s proximity to other galleries he can sell his work to is another benefit. When he had to travel from Vancouver Island to sell his work, the cost of ferry rides, gas and staying in the city was prohibitive.
Skwach`ays Lodge and its mashup of art – enterprise – and shelter is self-sustaining success story. And David Eddy says it makes this place feel special.
"People tell us that have stayed here, you know it feels really good here, or wow, there's something about this place. And it's true. They just get a buzz being here.”
Travel to Vancouver provided by Kenmore Air, which now has a daily scheduled flight from Seattle to Vancouver BC.
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