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Local First Nations won’t protest Olympics

Disruption counterproductive, says Chief Jacob

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Bridge blockades, airport disruptions and Internet information campaigns — these are just some of the protest options B.C. First Nations groups are pondering if poverty and land claim issues aren’t addressed before the 2010 Olympics.

But Squamish Nation will have no hand in disruption, said Chief Gibby Jacob.

“I'm on the board of directors representing Squamish and Lil’wat, and we’ve made a lot of presentations to the various organizations and received resolutions of support,” he said. “It wouldn’t be an appropriate thing to be a partner, then all of a sudden turn around and say, ‘Too late, I changed my mind.”

Last week, Squamish and Lil’wat Nations officially announced development plans for three of the seven land parcels guaranteed to them under the Legacy Land Agreement reached in 2002. Comprising 47 of 300 pledged acres within Whistler, those lands will be used for residential and commercial development, a strategy Jacob called essential to the betterment of local First Nations.

“From our perspective, I'd rather do an educational thing,” he said, adding that pamphleteering is a more amicable approach. “Alienating a lot of the people you’re trying to get support from doesn’t make sense to me.”

That sentiment seems shared by Chief Bill Williams, also of Squamish Nation. In mid-March, he appeared in local media condemning a Palm Sunday protest that saw band members disrupt a Vancouver mass to bring attention to the church’s past treatment of aboriginals in Canada.

And during last summer’s Aboriginal Day of Action, Squamish Nation launched no disruptive action. They don’t have any action planned this year, should the event be repeated.

According to Jacob, the last time the Nation’s leadership sanctioned an organized demonstration was during the Oka Crisis of 1990, when a land-based conflict eventually involved the military. At that time, information sessions were held and pamphlets were handed out.

The same tactics could be used in February 2010.

Pacifism aside, Jacob pulls no punches when it comes to philosophical solidarity. He sympathizes with other First Nations and finds their treatment in various jurisdictions to be deplorable.

“A lot of the dismal failures of other governments to support First Nations in health, education and safe drinking waters are motherhood issues,” he said. “I will not say a word against their objectives. I've been around this country enough to see the state of affairs with other First Nations. Some of them are so appalling. I’ve been in reserves where some log cabins have just cardboard windows. There's a failure somewhere, and things have to change for the better. We're an anomaly in Squamish. You can't gauge everybody by us or any of the other successful First Nations.”

And so Jacob has to strike a balance between the interests of Squamish Nation and the agendas of neighbouring groups. If that balance is skewed, and feelings are bruised, the chief said he won’t go into the Olympics with a guilty conscience.

“I'm of Squamish ancestry, as my parents were and great grandparents. I know who I am and where I come form. This is our traditional territory. If others want to ostracize our nation, including myself, then it is what it is.”

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