Torch Relay Targets Native Communities
Passing the torch through native hands
Globe and Mail, November 21, 2008
VANCOUVER — At least 100 aboriginal communities will be part of the marathon, cross-country Olympic torch relay, marking the largest involvement by an indigenous people in the history of the celebratory event, sources said yesterday.
Although details of the 35,000-kilometre route are being kept under wraps until today's formal announcement, an official with the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa said the national organization had taken part in extensive discussion with 2010 Olympic organizers about native participation in the relay.
"I can say that the torch will pass through a significant number of aboriginal communities, over 100," said the official, who did not want to be quoted by name. "We have worked closely with VANOC [the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee], and we are on board."
The news puts an end to speculation about wide-scale native resistance to participating in the high-profile relay, fuelled by remarks earlier this year from AFN chief Phil Fontaine. Mr. Fontaine had hinted that continuing native poverty could provoke relay protests similar to those that greeted the Olympic torch heading to China for the 2008 Summer Games.
Since then, however, representatives of VANOC and the supportive Four Host First Nations, on whose traditional territory the Winter Olympics will take place, have engaged in intense consultations with native leaders across Canada.
The $31-million relay, partly underwritten by the federal government, is billed as the longest route ever for the Olympic flame in a single country.
The torch will be carried by 12,000 runners during its 100-day journey, beginning next year in November.
All told, it is expected to pass through more than 1,000 communities. About 200 locations will be designated as "celebration centres" for special events associated with the torch's passage through the area.
VANOC head John Furlong has said that selecting which places get the torch, and which do not, is one of the organizing committee's most agonizing and difficult decisions.
Tewanee Joseph, executive director of the Four Host First Nations Secretariat, said he has been to all western provinces and the Yukon, meeting with chiefs and inviting them to have their communities involved.
He said VANOC deserves "real credit" for making the host native groups an official partner of the 2010 Games and taking the relationship seriously. "There is real mutual respect, and I'm absolutely delighted to see how far we've come."
Such feelings, however, are far from unanimous among native leaders.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, outspoken president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said it's difficult to get excited about "a grandiose, multimillion-dollar marketing scheme in the face of the crushing poverty our people face in B.C. and across the country."
When the torch relay was discussed at a UBCIC meeting this week, Grand Chief Phillip said one chief suggested "a gauntlet of Super-Soaker water pistols" greet any appearance of the torch in his community. "There were a lot of chuckles about that."
That is unlikely to happen on the scenic Musqueam Reserve at the mouth of the North Arm of the Fraser River. The Musqueam is one of the Four Host First Nations, and Chief Ernie Campbell confirmed the torch will pass through its territory.
"It's going to reach as many native communities as possible," Chief Campbell said, adding that he didn't know of any local opposition to the relay. "If you're in the Four Host First Nations, naturally the torch should go through those communities."
A spokesman for the Inuit Tapirii Kanatami said his organization has also been in talks with VANOC about the Olympics and the torch relay.
"We are sworn to secrecy but it's definitely going to be in some Arctic communities," he said. "There is a great joy in having the Olympic torch come through."
VANOC has bound communities selected for the torch relay to secrecy before today's announcement, and some native leaders said yesterday that they had no idea whether the torch would end up in their area.
Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Andy Carvill said none of his member bands had been contacted to be part of the run, although they would be "open" to hosting a leg. Chief Richard Nerysoo of the Inuvik First Nation in the Northwest Territories said he hadn't heard anything about the torch run.
Mr. Joseph of the Four Host First Nations, who will be at the unveiling of route details, said he, too, has not been told which native communities are on the list. "But I've heard that 100 is the minimum number that will be involved."
With a report from Josh Wingrove
Olympic torch relays were unknown until modern times. They have their roots in flame races called lampadedromia held in ancient Greece to honour certain gods. But the first torch relay associated with the modern Olympic Games did not occur until 1936 in Berlin. It was organized by the Nazis who believed that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich and was intended to link the modern and ancient Games.
The relay covered 3,075 kilometres through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria and involved 3,331 torchbearers.
Canada has hosted torch relays for two Olympics: the 1976 Montreal Summer Games and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
2010 Olympic Torch Relay route announced
Gary Kingston, Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, November 20, 2008
Fanny Bay and Blind Bay are on the list. And if you can't quite place those names on a map of B.C., try Ts'kw'aylaxw or Gwa'Sala-Nakwaxda'xw.
No? They're four of the 266 communities or places of interest that the 2010 Olympic torch relay, which organizers insist will be an emotional, tugging-at-your-maple-leaf-heart rallying point for the entire country, will visit in the host province of British Columbia.
The route's detailed itinerary, which took two years of planning, was released before a hand-picked audience in a West Vancouver theatre on Friday.
It's an ambitious 106-day undertaking that will begin on Oct. 30, 2009, at Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway in Victoria and stop at such iconic Canadian landmarks as Anne of Green Gables House in Cavendish, P.E.I., Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump outside Fort Macleod, Alta., and the CPR's Last Spike at Craigellachie, B.C.
The torch will pass through every Canadian province and territory, covering 26,000 kilometres by land, 18,000 by air and 1,000 kilometres by sea, and be carried by more than 12,000 torch-bearers using everything from their feet to snowmobiles, skis and snowboards.
Even though it is scheduled to hit 1,020 communities Canada-wide, including 115 aboriginal centres, and stop twice a day for short celebrations, Vanoc CEO John Furlong said he expects there to be some disappointed towns or villages.
"I am sure when we go back today we are going to be having people phoning and asking us, 'Is there no way you can come our way?' " said Furlong. "Our team is very passionate about this and if it is humanly possible to add and move and manouevre and go to other places and down other routes, we are going to try and do it."
He'll almost certainly hear from Chris O'Connor, the retiring mayor of Lytton, who said Friday he was "aggrieved" to hear the torch would not pass through his town, nor would it be travelling down the historic Fraser Canyon section of Highway 1.
"I'm hugely disappointed, we were a supporter from Day One," said the colourful O'Connor, who after Vancouver won the 2010 Games cheekily put up a large five-ring sign under the Welcome to Lytton declaring his town "The Other Olympic Village."
With the itinerary being released two days after celebrations marking B.C.'s 150th anniversary, O'Connor noted that the Fraser Canyon "is the centre of the birth of British Columbia. Where was Logan Lake [a nearby town the relay is hitting] in 1858?"
After five days on Vancouver Island to start, the torch will be flown north to Yukon and ultimately the Canadian Forces Base in Alert, the northernmost settlement in the world located on the tip of Ellsemere Island. It will then travel through the northern parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba before heading to Newfoundland for the bulk of its cross-Canada trip. The $30-million relay, two-thirds funded by the federal government, will conclude with 22 days in B.C.
The 45,000 total kilometres covered will be more than any other domestic torch relay in Olympic history. In 1988, the relay for the Calgary Olympics covered 18,000 kilometres with 6,550 torch bearers. The 2002 relay for the Salt Lake City Games covered 21,725 kilometres and 46 states.
Canadians can apply to be one of the 2010 torch bearers through the websites of presenting sponsors Coca-Cola, which has adopted the slogan "Live the Olympic Flame on the Coca-Cola side of life" and RBC. In both cases, applicants must submit personal pledges to physical activity, sustainability and doing something in their daily lives to make Canada a better place to live.
Both Furlong and Premier Gordon Campbell tried to play down fears that protest groups will use the torch relay's profile to stage demonstrations or disrupt the run.
"This is a celebration of peace and sport and the Olympic ideals," Furlong said. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you I don't think we're not going to face some [protests] from time to time. But I believe that most Canadians are looking forward to embracing this and celebrating it.
"Our view is it's going to have a unifying effect on the country."
Tewanee Joseph, director of the Four Host First Nations Secretariat, said he hopes the "native resistance" that has sometimes dogged Vanoc will diminish with so many indigenous communities on the route. "I think what it will do is you will see the number of people who are supporters and want to celebrate and bring out their languages and their culture."