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Natives threaten Olympic disruptions|
Leaders see the Vancouver Games as an opportunity to air their grievances unless progress is made on poverty and land claims
BILL CURRY and STEVEN CHASE AND JOE FRIESEN
April 18, 2008
OTTAWA, WINNIPEG -- Native leaders are warning the 2010 Winter Olympics will be marked by bridge blockades, airport disruptions and Internet campaigns if they don't see significant progress on aboriginal poverty and land claims by the time the world turns its attention to the Vancouver-area Games.
B.C. native leaders are drafting plans with an escalating scenario of options, beginning with peaceful pamphleteering and increasing to more disruptive tactics.
Other aboriginal leaders will specifically cite the Vancouver Olympics next week in New York when they present a report to the United Nations that says the Games will provide an opportunity to promote Canadian indigenous issues.
The growing international protests directed toward China's treatment of Tibet heading into the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing is not lost on Canada's aboriginal community, which is seeking ways to rally a similar global movement in its favour.
Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the Vancouver Olympics provide an opportunity to raise awareness, but he opposes any protest that would disrupt the Games. During a news conference yesterday announcing May 29 as a national day of action against aboriginal poverty, he mused about the similarities between China's treatment of Tibet and Canada's treatment of aboriginals.
"The situation here is compelling enough to convince Canadians that while it is okay and right for them to express outrage with the Chinese government's position against Tibet and the Tibetans, they should be just as outraged, if not more so, about our situation here," Mr. Fontaine said.
Other native leaders say there will be disruptions; insisting their plans will be peaceful and aimed at avoiding violence or arousing negative sentiment among non-natives.
David Dennis, vice-president of the United Native Nations, a group that represents B.C.'s off-reserve native people, said organizers are already planning non-violent protests that will cause massive disruption to the Games.
"I wouldn't rule out blockades, I wouldn't rule out mass demonstrations, I wouldn't rule out a blockade [of the airport]," he said.
Mr. Dennis, a former member of the West Coast Warrior Society, said the national day of action in May will test natives' organizational skills, but the protests will likely begin in earnest next February, a year from the start of the Olympics, and continue right through the Games.
"I can't imagine anything shutting it down, unless it's Canada going in and doing mass pre-emptive arrests before the 2010 Games. It'll continue right through the Games. For as long as there's an international reporter around, it's our responsibility to let them know what's going on," he said.
Chief Wayne Christian of the Shuswap National Tribal Council in B.C. said protests could include rail blockades or Internet campaigns or even visiting an international bond rating agency such as Standard & Poor's Corp. to cast doubt on the credit rating of B.C., where many native land claims remain unsettled.
"What we need to do is educate the world," Mr. Christian said, adding, however, that natives must find ways to protest that don't spur a backlash.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the Stó:lô Tribal Council in British Columbia said B.C. chiefs are drafting an action strategy to put pressure on Ottawa and the B.C. government to make progress on land claims, resource-revenue sharing and aboriginal poverty.
He said chiefs are planning activism around big events over the coming months and years, including the 150th anniversary of B.C.'s founding as a colony, as well as the next provincial and federal elections.
"The world is coming to visit in 2010. The message that's provided to the visitors that come to Greater Vancouver for the Winter Olympics depends entirely on how the province of British Columbia and the government of Canada address our issues," Mr. Kelly said.
David Emerson, the federal Conservative minister responsible for the 2010 Winter Games, urged all would-be dissidents to "think twice about contaminating that opportunity for all Canadians to present themselves to the world."
He said protests could ruin Canada's showcasing efforts.
"It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Canada to assert itself on the global stage, to show where Canada has been, where we are going and present ourselves to the world in a way that causes people to respect what Canada and Canadians are all about. And any kind of negative activity like that detracts, and could somewhat contaminate, the impression people get."
Mr. Emerson said he's skeptical that protests are the best way to win support. "I think that you run the risk of backlash, depending on how these things are conducted."
Former British Columbia native chief Arthur Manuel said he will be taking a report to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York next week that specifically calls for a link between aboriginal issues and the Vancouver Games.
"I think demonstrations are essential," said Mr. Manuel, who is the spokesman for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade.
"Any country that hosts any Winter or Summer Olympics puts in question its human-rights record. Canada has a very dismal human-rights record in relation to indigenous people."
Related link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/s ... 18/TPStory/National
LOL, what goes around comes around.