By Cam Martin
Anticipation fills the air in Vancouver as Olympic preparations take place. The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived, and the four host nations (the Lil’Wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh bands) will showcase their place in the complex Canadian tapestry. The 2010 Winter Olympic Games offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the First Nations of the Pacific Coast to share their heritage with the world.
First Nations have invested in ways to display their culture, thanks to an unprecedented partnership between Canada’s indigenous peoples and the Vancouver Olympic Committee. A six million dollar Four Host Nations pavilion has been erected in the courtyard of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, featuring a unique look that integrates both traditional and modern design. A large white dome about 20 meters in circumference rests upon a wooden base (built in traditional longhouse fashion). The dome is translucent, and at night, First Nation themed images projected against it will be visible from both the inside and outside.
The Sqamish-Lil’wat cultural centre in Whistler, British Columbia is set in a beautiful location and offers a fantastic opportunity to learn about local First Nations cultures. The centre, seen as an extension to the pavilion, shares our traditions and history through theatrical performances, an interpretative display including permanent and temporary exhibits, and a restaurant featuring local cuisine.
The buildings are not the only symbol of cooperation between the city of Vancouver and the Four Host Nations. Even the Olympic medals were designed with a mixture of contemporary and traditional artistry. Each medal is a unique work of art that uses traditional Aboriginal images of the Orca and Raven, taken from artwork by Canadian Designer Corrine Hunt of Komoyue and Tlingit heritage based in Vancouver. Each medal winner also receives a silk scarf printed with the original artwork, and for the first time in Olympic history, the medals are not flat; they have a raised surface, suggesting the local landscape of mountains, waves, and snow.
The cooperation between the Olympic committee and the First Nations has been tried at times, but the final vision is one of harmony and unity. “We are canoe people,” said Chief Justin George of the coastal Tsleil-Waututh band. “This is about paddling together with one heart, one mind, one spirit.” Though there has been significant protest against the use of Native land, most local peoples are eager to participate in this unique opportunity. Chief Billy Williams of the Squamish nation said those advocating “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land” are misguided. “They haven’t researched their own history,” he said. “What lands are they talking about? We know every inch of our traditional territory. No one has to tell us about stolen land. The point is what you create on the land.” Many of the host Nations insist that the land issue is not being pushed aside. “We believe they will provide benefits for generations to come, especially for our culture,” said the chief. “It would be a disservice to our ancestors not to take advantage of the chance to break that cycle of despair that has kept us back for so many years.”
These games are about cooperation, community, and rising to meet a challenge. Local First Nations and the city of Vancouver now have a chance to show off the beauty of the West Coast and its peoples. This place and the people who call it home will soon host visitors and athletes from across the global community, and it is a good time to take every advantage to offer the world our best efforts.