News  Protesters blow the whistle on Olympics train

Native land claims spark hostility toward Vancouver 2010 Olympic symbol

About 50 protesters confronted the Canadian Pacific Spirit Train in Montreal on its last stop of a four–week cross-Canada tour promoting the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.

Protesters said the Olympics are set to take place on land stolen from First Nations people during colonization that the government has no right to develop, lease, or govern. Many of B.C.’s First Nations communities never ceded their land in treaties to the British government during colonization.

Equipped with megaphones, signs, and musical instruments blasting loud music, many chanted, “No Olympics on Stolen Land,” “Shame the Spirit Train,” and “Homes not Games.”

“Projects are being developed now on rightful Native land [in B.C.]… this is simply a propaganda tool of the Canadian Government and the first of many tangible symbols of the Olympic Games to protest,” said a protester over a megaphone.

Some of the Spirit Train attendees, however, responded with apathy and anger. Many had been attracted by the family-friendly events.

“Could their music be louder? Someone should shut them up – they’re fools!” said one woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

The level of anti-Olympic protest has varied across Canada. In Ontario, a week before, members of the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) locked themselves to train tracks – causing several hours of delay. At Smith Falls, Ontario, however, attendance was almost non-existent.

Over the last few months, resisters have also vandalized corporate property of Olympic sponsors including Bell Canada, McDonald’s, RBC, and Delta.

Zig Zag, an active member of the ORN, however, considers such tactics legitimate.

“[Future actions] will depend on the tactics and strategies of those who gather, and those of our opponents. There is always a need for stronger action until we achieve our objective,” Zig Zag said.

In addition to the violation of historical First Nations land rights, the ORN and other 2010 protesters have voiced concern for the broader effect the Olympics will have on the environment, the homeless, the poor, rising public debt, and corporatization of B.C.

First Nations communities in B.C. live with high rates of poverty, unemployment, suicide, illness, and violence.

Zig Zag suggested, “There are many types of social movements…. I think what unites these movements is a general anti-oppression sentiment and belief.”

While Olympic officials have recognized the Spirit Train protests, they claimed the Spirit Train was a success.

“Despite the efforts of small groups of protesters at some stops along the route, the enthusiasm and participation of local Canadians was evident at each stop,” read a press release issued from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

Some First Nations communities, including its four hosts, the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, have publicly supported the 2010 games and are proactively working with VANOC to ensure Native representation particularly at sporting events, in the arts and culture, and with employment opportunities.