80 of B.C.’s 203 Native bands refuse to participate in Olympics

Posted by admin on Feb 6th, 2010

By Kim Pemberton, Vancouver Sun February 6, 2010

The head of the Four Host First Nations, Tewanee Joseph, has been criss-crossing the country since 2003 selling the Olympics to first nations communities. He’s achieved signed agreements with more than a dozen provincial and national aboriginal groups setting out their involvement with the 2010 Olympic Games. But despite his efforts, aboriginal groups are divided. No where is that more noticeable than here at home with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, representing 80 of the 203 bands in the province, refusing to participate in the games. The union’s longtime president Chief Stewart Phillip said he will not be at Monday’s opening ceremony for the Aboriginal Pavilion nor at any of the Olympic 2010 sponsored events.

Instead, his goal is to make a political statement.

He arrived in Vancouver on Thursday to meet with organizers of the 19th annual Feb. 14 Memorial March to commemorate women murdered or missing on the Downtown Eastside and the Highway of Tears in northwest B.C.

“I can’t stand alongside the premier and John Furlong [Vanoc director] at the grand opening ceremony and give the impression that everything is okay. It’s a moral decision. I’d much rather stand with the people who have to endure the tragic dimensions of the poverty imposed on the aboriginal people in this province and the tragic dimensions of that poverty in terms of our high suicide rates and homicides,” said Phillip.

“We’re deeply concerned about the concerted and aggressive marketing campaign advanced by Vanoc which suggests the indigenous people of B.C. and Canada enjoy a very comfortable and high standard of living. The Disneyesque promotional materials suggests a cosy relationship between aboriginal people of the province with all levels of government and it completely ignores the horrific levels of poverty our people endure on a daily basis.”

Phillip added the Olympics will come and go “in a blink of an eye” and aboriginal communities will still be dealing with massive unemployment, epidemic youth suicides, terrible health care and massive housing shortages, to name a few of the problems.

“If government would act on our constitutional rights, human rights, land use we’d be directly involved and in a position to address these appalling conditions of our people.”

He said nat ive groups throughout B.C. and Canada are divided on whether to support the games.

And while he doesn’t take issue with the Four Host First Nations going into partnership with the International Olympic Committee and Vanoc, and benefiting economically from the event, he is concerned with how the “government is absolutely consumed with the Olympics” and ignoring the harsh conditions experienced in most aboriginal communities.

Joseph said the Four Host First Nations has never denied problems exists in aboriginal communities and he’s also heard the comment the Four Host First Nations are “corporate sellouts.”

His response to that is a world event is coming to their traditional territory and “do we really want to be on the outside looking in?”

“We’ve all been poor. We’ve lived these issues ourselves. We come from the same place,” said Joseph. “There has been over 100 years of shameful treatment, anger, conflict, tragedy. My late grandmother said understand the past but don’t dwell in it.”

He added their message to all aboriginal groups is they can tell their story at the Olympics. But he cautions “if you had one minute to tell the story of your people worldwide, what would the picture be?”

Among the aboriginal groups who did sign partnership agreements with the Four Host First Nations to be part of the Olympics celebration are the First Nation Summit, which represents 106 aboriginal bands in B.C. and the Yukon involved in the treaty process, Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8 in Alberta, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Chiefs of Ontario, Grand Council of Cree, the Atlantic Policy Congress, the Dene Nation, the Council of Yukon First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Metis National Council, the Metis Nation of B.C., the Assembly of First Nations, Nisga’a Nation, Sto: lo Nation and Tsawwassen Nation.

Metis Nation of B.C. president Bruce Dumont said their organization is excited to be part of a theme day on Feb. 15 called “Metis Day” at the Aboriginal Pavilion in downtown Vancouver.


Comments are closed.