The Conundrum of 'Ilanaaq'-First Nations Representation and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

By O'Bonsawin, Christine M. | Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, October 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Conundrum of 'Ilanaaq'-First Nations Representation and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics


O'Bonsawin, Christine M., Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research


With its selection to host the XXIth Olympic Winter Games, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) will undoubtedly adhere to proposals put forth in its bid promises. This victorious bid, presented to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was the culmination of a four-ear preparation effort from 1999 to 2003, and centred upon a multi-million dollar investment, the commitment of a committee numbering over 500 people, a 460 page Bid Book, and a municipal plebiscite vote that was in favour of the Games. (1) Without doubt, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics will integrate Aboriginal imagery into the cultural programming of the ceremonies of the Games. The bid proposed that throughout the 'Olympiad Cultural Program 2006--2010' the Vancouver Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (OCOG) would present a variety of cultural activities, festivals, educational programmes, and conferences, which would feature the successes of the diverse communities of Canada. (2) First Nations peoples were singled out in this bid proposal, as the committee identified that "Vancouver's Aboriginal, classical, and contemporary cultural organizations will anchor these programs drawing upon a variety of superlative talents." (3) Predictably, since the 2003 announcement of Vancouver's triumphant bid by IOC President, Jacques Rogge, various efforts have been made to assure that Aboriginal cultural imagery is a prominent and visible countenance of both the cultural Olympiad at large, and the Olympic Games specifically. With its transformation from a bid committee, the newly-formed organizing committee proactively endorsed the inclusion of First Nations peoples, together with their complimentary visual imagery. Most notably, Canada's First Nations and their cultures have been overtly incorporated into the cultural programme of the 2010 Olympics through an official partnership between the Four Host First Nations (FHFN) and VANOC (as outlined in the 'Four Host Nations Protocol Agreement'); (4) the adoption of 'Ilanaaq'--an Inuit inukshuk that I will explain in detail later--as the official logo of the Vancouver Olympic Games; and a 'unique First Nations ceremony' that sought to define and project a sense of Canadian-ness in the official handover ceremony to Vancouver during the Closing Ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. While this paper recognizes the positive initiatives on the part of the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and accordingly supports the partnership between the FHFN Society and VANOC, its purpose is to critically assess the employment of politically persuasive visual imagery that has been outside, and at times in opposition to, the FHFN Protocol Agreement.

Included within The Sea to Sky Games: Vancouver 2010 Bid Book were lofty pledges to incorporate Canadian Aboriginal peoples in the planning and programming of the Winter Games. Bid organizers wrote:

   The four First Nations most directly involved in the Bid to
   host the 2010 Winter Games are the Lil'wat (Mt. Currie) Nation,
   Musqueam First Nation, Squamish Nation, and the Tsleil-Waututh
   (Berrard) Nation. Each is represented on the Vancouver 2010 Board
   of Directors and one First Nation (Lil'wat) representative is a
   member of the Executive Committee. The Callaghan Valley and RMOW
   [Resort Municipality of Whistler] are located within the shared
   traditional territory of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations. These
   two First Nations have entered into protocol to work together to
   ensure that their interests are protected and accommodated and that
   their Nations receive a share of the Legacies from the Games. These
   two Nations and Vancouver 2010 have established an Aboriginal
   Secretariat and are currently negotiating shared legacies for the
   Nations, primarily relating to the Callaghan Valley. (5)

Furthermore, the Bid Book identified the Federal Government, Provincial and Territorial Governments, Municipal and Regional Governments, and First Nations as the four political institutions (or partners) of Canada.

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