Opinion » Editorial


First Nations’ story will be front and centre during Olympics



After listening to two days of presentations on the 2010 Olympics last week, in Whistler and in Vancouver, from the likes of Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, Bill Malone from the Park City Chamber of Commerce, Terry Wright from VANOC, numerous business leaders, politicians and deputy ministers, I think I’ve figured out what the story of the Games will be six years from now: the First Nations people of British Columbia.

To be sure, there will be some amazing stories of athletes and their accomplishments. Vancouver, Whistler and much of the rest of the province will be shown off like never before, which for much of the world will be a story. The hospitality and friendliness of Canadians will be part of the tale. And perhaps at the end of it all Vancouver, and British Columbia, will finally assume a status on the Pacific Rim and within Canada that they have long failed to seize.

But all those stories aside, I’m betting what most of the world will remember about the 2010 Games is the Aboriginal people of B.C. As Green as the Games may be and as noble a concept as sustainability is, the First Nations’ story is going to be more memorable, because it involves people.

It’s also a story that everyone wants to hear. And after seeing the spectacular way NBC portrayed Australia during its introduction to the Sydney Olympics, the story of B.C.’s First Nations and their role in the 2010 Games is going to be visual, dramatic and tailor-made for Ebersol’s crew.

And it’s a story about seizing the moment. The Olympics represent opportunities, and some First Nations have grasped that better than non-natives. While many people at Monday’s business summit in Vancouver seemed to be focused on how they could sell their goods or services to the Olympic organizers, or what their business strategy for 17 days in February of 2010 should be, many First Nations have taken a longer-term view.

The leaders of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations have done this. The cultural centre in Whistler, which they hope to break ground on in July, may be the most visible example of their approach, but it is only one part of their future. Half of the Squamish Nation’s population is under the age of 25. The percentage is similar for most other First Nations in B.C. Over the next 20 years the First Nation population is expected to double.

Compare that to the aging general population of B.C. According to figures provided by the deputy minister of Advanced Education, by 2010 the number of people leaving the workforce will exceed the number of 15-24-year-olds entering the workforce. By 2015, even if every student in school in B.C. today graduates and goes to work, B.C. will still be short more than 25 per cent of the people needed to fill jobs.

The First Nations people aren’t going to solve this problem even if their population doubles, but they are preparing for the future through education programs for their youth and projects like the cultural centre in Whistler. As Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said Saturday, it is important the cultural centre succeed because "…it’s us getting outside the box…. We will be contributing to society."

Since the early days of the bid for the 2010 Games proponents have touted the Olympics as a catalyst for change and improvement, rather than just an event. The leaders of the Squamish, Lil’wat, Musqueum and other First Nations have understood this better than most and are planning accordingly.

"Opportunity doesn’t come knocking at your door, you have to go out and find it," Jacob said.

The story of the First Nations of British Columbia is thousands of years old. Over the next six years it should become even more compelling.