Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 2010
First Nations embrace Olympics' potential
Aboriginals' full participation provides a showcase for both their culture and entrepreneurial spirit
THE B.C. CATHOLIC
VANCOUVER - The 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games can be "transformational" for First Nations peoples, said Tewanee Joseph, CEO of the Four Host First Nations Society.
"Aboriginal participation will be the defining element of these games, the high-water mark by which all future games will be measured," Joseph added. "For the first time in Olympic history, First Nations are full and active partners and hosts."
The games also will be opportunity to showcase indigenous culture and entrepreneurial spirit to visitors across Canada and around the world, he added.
The Four Host First Nations Society has partnered with the Vancouver Olympic Committee to host the competitions in Vancouver and Whistler.
Rennie Nahanee, Vancouver Archdiocese's First Nations Ministry coordinator, said the Aboriginal Pavilion being constructed on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza in downtown Vancouver will honour the past and give a glimpse into the future of native peoples.
For the 17 days of the Olympics, the $3.5-million site within walking distance of BC Place and GM Place will be the focus for First Nations and the venue for traditional performances.
The 8,000-square-foot, five-storey venue will feature the StratoSphere, a 20-metre-high inflatable, translucent dome on which will be projected forms and figures from the interior to the exterior surface. Constructed of cedar and Douglas fir, the post-and-beam, horseshoe-shaped structure is a contemporary version of a West Coast longhouse, including a business reception area, trading post and performance area.
An elders' lounge will sit side-by-side with native arts and crafts displays from across Canada; almost all aboriginal organizations have signed an agreement to host a day of events at the site.
The welcome mat was rolled out by First Nations peoples two years ago: Representatives of the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh bands, which make up the Four Host First Nations Society, came forward to invite the world to the 2010 Games, which will take place on land that has been their ancestral home for thousands of years.
Vancouver Olympic Committee aboriginal liaison Gary Youngman said the goal has been to go beyond what was accomplished at previous Olympic Games.
Earlier Games tended to focus on purely ceremonial and cultural programs, to true inclusion of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples as full and equal partners, he said.
"This idea is relatively new to the Olympic movement and, while we have no template to follow and no clear indicators for how we can measure our success, we are certainly going beyond what was done in Calgary and Salt Lake City," said Youngman, referring to the 1988 and 2002 Winter Olympics.
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Joseph said he is excited and gratified by opportunities the Olympics are giving to aboriginal communities. "For the first time in Olympic history," Joseph added, "we have created a retail merchandising deal to recognize indigenous arts as part of an official Olympic program."
Still the distressing realities of life on a Canadian Indian reserves remain a concern. Aboriginal people, he said, experience unemployment at least double that of other Canadians. Aboriginal males die 7.4 years earlier than non-aboriginals, and the suicide rate is twice the national rate. Two out of three children living on reserves will not graduate from high school and, therefore, face a bleak employment future, he said.
These facts, Joseph added, have made the Four Host First Nations even more determined to make sure aboriginal participation in the Olympics is as full as it can be - "to take every opportunity to change things for the better and to create a better life for our children."
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