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Feature - First Nations reach for the rings

Some see the Olympics as an opportunity for future generations of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations; others are not so sure

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For many Squamish and Lil’wat people the chance to help host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is a chance for hope.

With a large and growing population of young people in both Nations, and a growing unemployment rate, the Games are seen as a way of refocusing youth for the future.

Then there is the money.

Both bands have worked hard to negotiate a deal with the provincial government and the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation to get funding for programs seen as vital to the future of the Lil’wat and the Squamish people.

Some of it will come to the bands whether the Games end up in Vancouver and Whistler or not.

To the bid corporation the involvement of B.C.’s Aboriginal people is a great boost. Both the Squamish and Lil’wat people have written to the International Committee strongly endorsing Vancouver’s bid, which plans to hold 14 of the 20 sporting events on their territorial lands.

"They have been in as partners and participants since the beginning," said Paul Manning chief of staff for the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation.

"One of the fundamentals of this bid is that in this part of the world where we are inviting the Olympic world to come we have a wonderfully cosmopolitan diversity… and the fact that we have the First Peoples here with us and actively involved just makes for a complete bid."

But there are voices of dissent in the quest for the Games.

Some have little faith in the agreement’s ability help their peers, or the province to keep its word when it comes to deals, and some are concerned the increased tourism in the corridor will only end up hurting native culture and traditions.

But Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob said his focus since the beginning of the Nation’s involvement with the Games has been protection.

"What we determined from the outset was that we were going to go in there to protect our interests, so it was a matter of protection as opposed to anything else," said Jacob, who has been a board member with the bid corporation since the summer of 2000.

"As time went on I have become comfortable with how the planning was taking place, including the efforts for the protection of the environment and the sustainability aspect.

"It all became very apparent to me that there was some reality and truthfulness behind it."

Protection of culture was also high on the list of priorities, said Jacob.

"We take that very seriously," he said.

"We have probably been the most impacted, the people of Squamish, by White civilizations so we are for sure not going to allow even small segments of our culture to disappear.

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