First Nations Olympic Dream
By : Lizza Gebilagin
The countdown to the 2010 Winter Olympics has begun. There's less than a year to go until visitors from around the world, draped in flags from one of 80-plus countries, will head to Vancouver and Whistler in Canada to support their athletes in the XXI Winter Olympic Games. From February 12-28, long-standing rivals will battle it out on the ice hockey rink, the world's best skiers will sprint across Whistler Olympic Park for the gold and the most graceful figure skaters will dance on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum. Medals will be won, tears will be shed and words to national anthems will be sung.
If you are just one of the thousands of sports-loving enthusiasts planning on making your way to Vancouver next year, as soon as you disembark from your plane and enter Vancouver International Airport, you'll realize this isn't an ordinary Olympics. The sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe, by Bill Reid, is your first clue to that fact. This piece of native artwork stands at the entrance of the international terminal. It's been there for years now, but unlike in the past when it was the first and last symbol of the native culture in Vancouver, it is now just the first piece of the First Nations cultural journey.
"In the past, once [visitors] left the international airport, there was nothing to indicate that we, as an indigenous people, existed in Canada," says Chief Bill Williams, leader of the Squamish Nation and chairman of the Four Host First Nations. "But now, we will be able to have signs to show where we are. We'll have signs all along the highway from the international airport up to Whistler, through our traditional territory and to the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre."
Williams is excited because this is the first time in the history of the Olympics that indigenous peoples have been recognized as official co-hosts of the games. The Four Host First Nations, made up of the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, are involved in almost every aspect of the 2010 Olympics.
"It seems like the world doesn't really know that we still exist and that we still have our culture, our means and our language, and our songs and our dance," says Williams. "Being able to express that through the Olympics is just a dream come true."
Olympic Legends: Miga, Quatchi and Sumi
For a piece of Olympic and First Nations culture that you can take home with you, be sure to check out the Olympic mascots. Surfing and snowboarding fans will love Miga, a "sea bear" that is part killer whale, part bear. The inspiration for Miga came from the First Nations legends of whales that would change into bears when they were on land. Quatchi is a young sasquatch (otherwise known as Bigfoot) who loves hockey and, funnily enough, taking photos of unsuspecting hikers in the forest. Sumi is the mascot for the Paralympic Games and is an animal spirit. Sumi is drawn from the West Coast First Nations legends of transformations. He is part killer whale, part thunderbird, part bear. You can purchase souvenirs online at vancouver2010.com/store
First Nations Snowboard Team
Some people love watching alpine skiing; others seem to get a thrill out of curling. No matter what your sporting preference is, you should definitely make time to watch the snowboard events at Cypress Mountain to show your support for the First Nations snowboard team. Since 2004, the team has been working toward its goal of winning a medal in snowboarding. Will they succeed?
A Taste of Culture
If your desire to experience First Nations culture is driven by your taste buds, the best place to go is the café at Whistler's new Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre for five-star indigenous cuisine (slcc.ca). Award-winning First Nations Chef Andrew George and Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler Scott Thomas Dolbee have created a delectable menu inspired by recipes that have been passed down for centuries. Try the Squamish salmon chowder, Lil'wat venison chili, smoked duck with a salad of gathered greens, or quail eggs. Satisfy your sweet tooth with the bannock bread pudding with blackberry mousse or fresh berry salad with ice wine sabayon.
Sharing Stories with the World
After satisfying your hunger, it's time to explore the rest of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. The $30 million center opened last summer and showcases the cultures of the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations. Walk through the gallery and museum, watch documentaries in the theater and make your own piece of indigenous artwork in the crafts section.
Downtown Vancouver is home to the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (billreidgallery.ca). The gallery, which opened in May 2008, was named after famous Canadian artist Bill Reid, of the Haida nation, and was built on traditional Salish territory. The gallery's permanent installation includes work by Bill Reid, while the other exhibition spaces feature Northwest Coast art and cultural performances. Entry costs $10 for adults, $5 for children or $25 for families.
The Great Outdoors
If after all the Olympic frenzy you still have the time (and energy) to explore the great outdoors outside of Vancouver, this is the perfect opportunity to take the Great River Journey. Over eight days, you will travel 373 miles in a riverboat, beginning at Whitehorse and ending in Dawson City, and traveling through the traditional lands of the Ta'an Kwäch'än, Kwanlin Dün, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and Selkirk. This is as close to indigenous heritage as you are going to get.
Where to Stay
Planning to stay in Vancouver or Whistler for the duration of the Winter Olympics and Paralympics? Consider renting a house or a condo. Two great sites for rental properties are rent2010.net and rentforthegames.com. You may as well make yourself at home during the games!
Book your trip today! Visit www.aa.com, call American/American Eagle reservations at 1-800-433-7300, or call your travel agent for more information.