Native Youth Protest 2010 Olympics
Activists embark on speaking tour to denounce impact of Vancouver Games By Sam Bick. News Writer McGill Daily.
With the 2010 Vancouver Olympics rapidly approaching, indigenous groups in Canada are protesting that the events – to be held on unceded Salish, St’at’imc, and Squamish territory – will wreak environmental and social destruction. Activists Kanahus Pelkey and Dustin Johnson have embarked on a three-week speaking tour across the East Coast and Great Lakes entitled “No Olympics on Stolen Land” to illuminate the threat. The two visit Montreal’s Native Friendship Centre tonight. “By having the Olympics [outside Vancouver], it opens our land, our sacred sites, our medicine grounds,” Pelkey said. “All these big corporations are going to see the potential in our land, and we want them to know that our land is not for sale,” she added.
Pelkey, a spokesperson for the Native Youth Movement (NYM), explained that NYM is opposing the Olympics not only because of unresolved land claims issues, but also due to the threat the Olympics poses to the local land and low-income communities in the city.
Sun Peaks Ski Resort recently completed a $284-million expansion project that, according to Pelkey, has destroyed land off of which many indigenous people live.
“Sun Peaks Resort has violated our basic human rights, and there have been more than 70 arrests of native people who want to prevent the expansion or take back the land,” Pelkey said.
Johnson claimed that the impending games have created infrastructure that is ripe for corporate expansion into traditional land.
“There is an infrastructure being created for 2010 that will result in the further destruction of mountains and valleys that are traditionally Salish, St’at’imc, and Squamish territory. They are creating infrastructure to attract corporate businesses and large real estate operations,” Johnson said.
“The Olympics have brought a destruction of the natural world and a dehumanization of the people.”
In Vancouver, anticipation of the 2010 Olympics has led to rent increases and the transformation of low-income housing into upscale condos. Johnson noted that hundreds of people have been evicted from low income housing since 2003.
“It has created a more sterile, white, corporate environment,” Johnson said.
Chiefs selling out
The official web site of the 2010 Olympics claims that the “Vancouver Olympic Committee’s goal is to achieve unprecedented Aboriginal participation in the planning and hosting of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (VANOC)’s closest partner in this effort is the Four Host First Nations, a group of local chiefs, but Angela Sterrit, a member of the International Indigenous Youth Network, said the Four Host First Nations were not representative of indigenous people in the region.
“These sell-out chiefs are in it for the money, not for the people,” Sterrit said. “There is a big difference between political consent and ceremonial blessings.”
Pelkey agreed. “The majority of the traditional indigenous people will not vote in this system; they refuse to respect it. We have our own system that the government does not respect,” Pelkey said.
Many natives were incensed when VANOC unveiled the Olympic logo and mascot. Sterrit explained that the logo, based on the Inuit inukshuk, was not created by indigenous people.
“It bastardizes indigenous cultures and mocks our people. That is evidence about how VANOC views indigenous peoples and cultures,” Sterrit said.
The speaking tour comes after over a year of actions and protests aimed at shedding light on indigenous concerns with the Olympics. Last February, indigenous groups protested the three-year countdown celebration. In October, 1,500 indigenous people attended the Gathering of the Indigenous Peoples of America in Mexico to declare a public rejection of the Olympics.
Native groups also plan to protest the two-year countdown celebration next month. “They’ll never stop us. The spirit that our people have, and the knowledge that this is our land, is something that they cannot take away,” Pelkey said.