Commentary | Hyde Park: Unpacking the sticky simplicity

The “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land” stickers pasted all around McGill have become something of a symbol of radical thought. Their message is explicit, their objective specific: delegitimize the Vancouver Olympic Games on the grounds that Vancouver Olympic Committee (VanOC) has no right to host the games on venues that lie on unceded aboriginal territory (i.e., most of British Columbia). As a part of No2010’s ongoing mission to undermine support for the Games, the stickers amount to an attempt to make the Olympics synonymous with colonialism.

Colonialism stains every interaction within Canada, and until we attend to the colonial history of our nation, this will be our reality. However, extracting this omnipresent truth and pinning it – or in this case, sticking it – to the Olympic Games has been both misleading, and detrimental to thoughtful discussion.

It is tremendously difficult to argue that the Olympics are not a colossal waste of money, time, and energy, and I do not attempt to argue this. However, opposing them on the grounds that they are happening on “Stolen Native Land” is problematic for three main reasons.

Nuanced claims

No2010.com, the producers of the stickers, attribute VanOC policy’s unprecedented inclusion of aboriginal interests to the political advantage and lure of “aboriginal tourism” revenues. Furthermore, they accuse VancOC of “buying off” the host First Nations through Indian Act band councils, in an attempt to “pacify and avoid resistance.” Though endowed with grains of truth, these claims are misleading.

Though the games are taking place on unceded land, aboriginal band councils are still partners in the Games – and though the band councils were themselves formed by colonial powers, opposing the Games unconditionally on these grounds denies these native groups agency to make their own decisions.

A partnership was struck between VanOC and the four Indian Bands who hold traditional title to the area. The Four Host First Nations (FHFN) – Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh – sought out a partnership before the games were awarded in order to secure their interests, voice their concerns, and seek out the best possible deal for their people. “The Olympics are a boon: for the government to look good, a boon for protestors to express themselves,” says Lea MacKenzie, Director of Outreach and Partnerships for the FHFN and an Indigenous Canadian. “Why can’t it be a boon for us to push our agenda? Why can’t we use them to our advantage?” she adds.

No2010.com argues that native people are in support of the games because they have succumbed to the temptation to make money and because Olympic propaganda in the Aboriginal communities has been effective. In response to the criticism made by the largely non-indigenous members of No2010.com, Mackenzie counters that “non-indigenous people need to stop trying to speak on behalf of aboriginal people.” The FHFN have demonstrated that they are more than capable in dealing with the government.

Rather than being solely concerned with aboriginal advocacy, the No2010 group has a host of political motivations, including an environmentalist and anti-capitalist agenda. No matter how worthy of our attention their myriad of political aims might be, it is absolutely unacceptable to pretend to speak for aboriginal people and undermine their sovereignty in the process.

The FHFN are sovereign: they have the agency, and they hold the right to make decisions about their land. As such, no group has the moral prerogative to condemn their decisions on the grounds that their motives are capitalistic. Any aboriginal nation can – and has – engaged with settler governments in capitalist relations on an equal footing. The Iroquois traders did this 300 years ago, and if the FHFN wish to now with VanOC, then they have the right to do so.

And though the band council structure may be a product of colonial forces, we are so deep in a state of colonialism that the debate over legitimate leadership (elected band council, or traditional council) is unresolved. Because of this, such absolutist conclusions like the inherent illegitimacy of the band council, are flawed in principle and practice.

The leadership of the FHFN, demonstrates a successful example of hybrid leadership, incorporating both traditional and elected leaders. Popular support of the band is significantly strong within the communities, and most importantly, the criticism from No2010.com comes from outside their communities. Regardless of whether or not Band Councils are colonial structures, it is the people of the FHFN who have the right to decide their own fate.

Interpretation, shmerpretation

The simple slogan “No Olympics on stolen land” reduces a complex issue in a way that ties centuries of injustice toward indigenous people to one two-week-long sporting event. Rather than provoking reflection on all Canadians’ part in this colonial legacy, it presents us with an easy scapegoat.

A similar logic seemed to be in play in the reaction to McGill Chancellor Dick Pound’s remarks. The tendency to claim, “he’s a racist, but we’re not,” isn’t too far from the claim that “we were racist, but now we’re not” – a common theme in dealing with the existential problems created by the dreadful marks on our history. The habitual projection of Canada’s issues onto some other person, institution, or time fetters the progress of de-colonization in Canada.

Every interaction, every development, every aspect of Canada is imbued with a colonial legacy, and we must not reduce these down to an ultimately insignificant event such as the 2010 Olympics. The Olympics may very well be a villain, but if it is, it’s a temporary villain – and once it becomes history, our “Stolen Land” issue will still endure.

And the technique

Dialogue about Aboriginal rights is not only healthy, but necessary – and it must not be limited to issues surrounding the Olympic Games. The 2010 games provide an opportunity to thrust this issue into the national discourse.

No2010.com’s approach is representative of many radical groups with wisdom to add to the discussion: non-negotiable, ideological extremism. This categorical denial of alternative approaches and insistence on bringing in other political goals such as anti-capitalism, only furthers to widen the sorry lack of understanding for this issue. Instead, No2010.com should use their influence and support base to constructively challenge the current power structures.

Caustic language and hostile criticism pasted on a camouflage-backed webpage merely polarizes the issue and forces Canadians to choose a side. Faced with the choice between status quo or radical change, what do you think the population will choose?

People have a right to be angry, yet if positive change is your goal, then diplomacy must find its place within ideology. Their campaign has been to sacrifice dialogue for dogma – which will, as has been demonstrated over Canada’s past several hundred years, only alienate those who need to listen and isolate those who think they know.

The Olympics’ significance as a forum for social mobilization must not be understated. There is no denying the symbolic potency of the 2010 Olympics, and groups advocating for aboriginal justice should utilize this opportunity.

However, denying the sovereignty and agency of the FHFN, overemphasizing the symbolic nature of the 2010 Olympics, and alienating many Canadians from discussion are three implications that have caused “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land” to have somewhat of a negative effect. I challenge No2010.com to preach beyond the choir and share their passion, spread their expertise, and involve themselves in a useful discussion that must occur in our “Stolen Country.”

Scott Baker is a U3 Arts student planning on doing a victory lap. He says that “the Olympics are fucked, but you gotta understand how they’re fucked.” To start, check out No2010.com, fourhostfirstnations.com, and the sustainability page at vancouver2010.com.


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