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Original Peoples

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Indigenous Activists Discuss Oppression and Resistance in Lead up to Games

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.

Original Peoples, →2010 Olympics

To close the first day of events and festivities surrounding the 2010 Olympics Resistance Summit on Wednesday night, February 10th, a panel discussion was held by indigenous activists. The speakers included Gord Hill (Kwakwaka'wakw), Carol Martin (Nisga’a), Billie Pierre (Nlaka'pamax), and Art Manuel (Secwepemc). WISE Hall was crowded, much as it was during the entire day of organizational workshops. This particular event was open to the general public as well as the media. An enthusiastic crowd sat in the backdrop of the media lights and cameras which focused on the four speakers. The participants provided a comprehensive breakdown of the plight and suffering of indigenous people in Canada, as well as articulating how the 2010 Vancouver Olympics has had negative implications on native peoples. The message conveyed on Wednesday night was that although VANOC and the mainstream media would have the public believe otherwise, the 2010 Winter Olympics are part and parcel of a long tradition of the subjugation and oppression of indigenous peoples and their lands, both in rural and urban settings.

A variety of feelings and emotions emanated from the panel and reverberated throughout the room during the panel discussion, including anger, sadness, pride, laughter, and strength. Young Billie Pierre defiantly articulated the struggles on and for the land and relayed the message that while indigenous peoples face many struggles within the cities, the struggle is ubiquitous and the focus remains on the land. There exists a justifiable anger, sadness, and contempt for the Canadian state and its colonial predecessors in creating the conditions that native peoples endure today, the residential school system created out of the Indian Act as arguably being the most devastating. Billie explained to the audience how the Canadian state is still stealing land and resources away from the people who live on the land and have always relied on it for sustenance. In British Columbia, Canadian practices of industry and “conservation” have depleted the salmon stocks, and the ski resort business continues to expand while destroying the mountains. However, they face resistance along every step of the way.

Carol Martin spoke of the suffering endured by the women in the Downtown Eastside, a majority of which are indigenous women. She spoke of her own personal experience trying to survive in an increasingly gentrified Vancouver, as well as the history of the residential school system and how it has devastated indigenous communities. Carol is a lead organizer in the 19th Annual Memorial March for missing women in the Downtown Eastside, to be held this Sunday, February 14th. VANOC had asked that the march be rerouted and shortened, as they have asked the Chinese New Year parade, but organizers have been defiant and the march will continue as planned.

Art Manuel highlighted Canada’s horrible human rights record in relation to indigenous people and how it has increasingly garnered international attention. Certainly, it is hard to avoid the negative attention when Canada was only one of four states to not sign onto the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Art spoke of Canada as traditionally maintaining a high rating on human rights in the international community, but when statistics were factored in from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada dropped to 47th. Art has been speaking to numerous members of the international media, explaining and showing the plight and poor conditions that indigenous peoples experience in Canada.

Gord Hill provided a concise history of contact between European settlers and native peoples in what is now known as British Columbia. He attributed the existence of the Olympic Industry in 2010 as being enabled by this violent history of the subjugation of indigenous peoples on these lands. Gord has consistently asserted that there is no legal jurisdiction in local, national, or international law to hold the Olympics on these territories as they were never ceded through formal treaty. Amidst loud cheering and support, Gord spoke of the Hudson Bay Company, a main sponsor of the Games, as governing Vancouver Island in 1849, the spread of small pox, and of the invasion of tens of thousands of settlers into the Fraser Valley and lower mainland. He spoke of the Royal Navy’s gunboat diplomacy along the coasts, and of the attempted legal theft of indigenous territory through the Land Act.

A theme emerges out of the discussions, one of historical impetus in contemporary struggles. The descendants of settlers in Canadian society and newer immigrants have learned a distinct and inaccurate narrative, one that has been carefully constructed through the media and woven into the national fabric by contemporary “Indian agents”. It is one that not only ignores the contributions of indigenous peoples, but perpetuates a history of cultural genocide, marginalization, and demonization of natives as social deviants who cannot seem to get their act together. Not only is this offensive, but it is inaccurate. A new narrative is emerging and in a strange way, the Olympics are allowing this history to be articulated in wider circles. Canada’s ongoing colonial history is being exposed and the Olympics are being turned on their head for what they really represent: a continuation of this oppression, reinforced by a contemporary version of gunboat diplomacy. With the coming convergence inevitably being faced by thousands of police and perhaps the military who are on standby, Gord Hill sums up the situation, “the resistance has already won, we have achieved our objective. They wanted security in the background but now it’s in the’s the number one issue.” Securing these lands through force has always been the issue, and although the Olympics resistance is merely a continuation of a long history of struggle, it may very well represent a moment when these tides of repression can begin to be reversed.

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