Vancouver 2010 pretends indigenous people have institutional power over Canada.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies were skillfully-done Canadian propaganda. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) did so many things right for the opening ceremonies with respect to indigenous-related symbolism. However, the main problem with the opening ceremonies were that they gave the impression to the rest of the world that the Canadian government respects the rights of indigenous people, when indigenous peoples are the most marginalized ethnic groups in Canada.

Canadians often think of ourselves as a “multicultural” country and a “nation of immigrants”, and these concepts of national identity conveniently erase the primacy of indigenous people and obscure Canada’s colonial history. Surprisingly, the opening ceremonies did not fall into the trap of celebrating “Aboriginal Canadians” along with “Chinese Canadians” as if indigenous people are just another non-white ethnic group. The opening ceremonies recognized that the Olympics were on the land of the Four Host First Nations—Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh—and that even other indigenous groups had to be welcomed into Vancouver by the Four Host First Nations.

Not only did the opening ceremonies rightly give primacy to indigenous people—and the geographically-relevant indigenous people—but this way of thinking of national identity avoids the othering of Canadians of colour that is characteristic of Canadian multiculturalism. For example, Canadian multiculturalism typically celebrates “Chinese Canadians” as an example of the “different” cultures in Canada, which frames Chinese Canadians as culturally different and culturally other, regardless of the cultural realities of Chinese Canadians. At the same time, it portrays White Canadians as culturally neutral, regardless of the cultural realities of White Canadians, and simultaneously ignores the dominance of Anglo and Western European culture in education, history, national holidays, and social conventions.

Photo of No Olympics on stolen native land! bannerIn any case, while the symbolism of the opening ceremonies was socially advanced in terms of portraying Canadian identity, it was completely incongruent with the realities of systemic discrimination and racism against indigenous people in Canada. For example, Unicef reports that in almost any measure of health and well-being, indigenous children are at least two or three times worse off than other Canadian children. Amnesty International reports that young Indigenous women are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die from violence. The Canadian corrections system incarcerates Aboriginal Canadians nine times more than the national average and continues to discriminate against them inside prisons.

The opening ceremonies represent a more ideal Canada where indigenous people are generally healthy, happy, and have the institutional power to welcome or unwelcome international organizations, but this was another carefully-crafted illusion along with the other special effects.

Update: Greenest Games Ever? Frontline Voices Confront Olympic Greenwash (via Racialicious via Toban Black):

“The Canadian Government is using the Olympics as a big advertisement that our lands are open for business,” Kanahus charged. “But we want the world to know that our lands are not for sale here in BC. Our lands here are unsurrendered, unceded indigenous territories – we have never given up our land.

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18 Responses to “Vancouver 2010 pretends indigenous people have institutional power over Canada.”

  1. trishothinks Says:

    That is sad…..that they are used as propaganda.

    The native Americans also suffer from the same treatment in the U.S. Those who live on reservations are the poorest, least educated, and typically have a much lower life-span expectancy due to their poor living conditions.

    When I watched the opening ceremonies….I too thought, wow, they must really respect the “first people” in their country.

    Thanks for exposing the dirty truth.

  2. BLACKkittenROAR Says:

    Excellent post, as always. Not only did the opening ceremonies manage to deceive those from far and away, but it also worked to deceive those here at home as well. It amazes and saddens me how easily Canadians too buy into this.

  3. Mike Barber Says:

    I would also like to add my own article “Canadian Aboriginals need justice, not tributes” which I wrote for Race-Talk.org last week: http://www.race-talk.org/?p=2759

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Why respect a group of people who continually sav off our the rest of our nations tax dollars, only to squander it on booze and drugs and other useless habits, on the rest of canadian dollars, lucky they recieved such a nice tribute at the opening ceremonies.

  5. Restructure! Says:

    Anonymous,

    Please stop trolling. If you are serious, please read Mike Barber’s post http://www.race-talk.org/?p=2759 to see why you are typical of what he’s talking about.

  6. urbia Says:

    “That is sad…..that they are used as propaganda. ”

    Yes, but on the bright side, in this day and age people have more access to information and can see both sides of the coin. People aren’t stupid. When they see this dog and pony show juxtaposed with the demonstrations, they’ll easily put two and two together and recognize that Canada is just trying to sweep its shameful human rights abuses under the rug… something which the West ironically accused China of doing around the time of its Olympics hosting. This hypocrisy is exposed to the world.

  7. David Weedmark Says:

    I cannot believe any Canadian with eyes and ears could possibly see these ceremonies as a reflection of our country’s relationship with First Nation people. Squalid living conditions, lack of clean water, insufficient health care… these things are infamous. If this was not known outside of our country, I am thankful for this article and others like it. However, speaking as a Canadian, instead of seeing these ceremonies as propaganda, I saw the ceremonies as the beginning of a new era: one of inclusion and respect and honour.

  8. Mike Barber Says:

    @David Weedmark: I would like to see it as a doorway to such an era, but without substantial action to actually begin the ball rolling towards restorative justice, nothing will change. What we have right now is the illusion of inclusion.

  9. urbia Says:

    I agree. If nothing changes (despite the fact the ceremonies made Canadians optimistic about a new era of inclusion, respect, and honour), the ceremony will very well be nothing but propaganda. In fact, very successful propaganda.

  10. Mike Barber Says:

    In a way, it already is successful propaganda. My Twitter feed was full of praise for Canada and our “tribute” (their word) to Aboriginals on the evening of the opening ceremony. The one-sided view that was being spread amongst the Twitter-verse (nerdy, I know) bothered me so much I spent the entire next day writing the article I linked earlier, trying to put into words the creepiness I felt.

    I think it has succeeded on both an external/international level as well as an internal one.

  11. davidweedmark Says:

    Well Mike, I’ve written to my MP. I speak about this with my children. I’ve shared your article on Twitter…. and not believing that was enough, I decided to start a Facebook group yesterday. “My Canada Includes Aboriginals”, based on this very subject. I’ve received a couple letters already from people sharing their experiences. Racism still exists, but hopefully we can each in our way continue to erode it. I’m determined that 2010 will be looked back upon as a new beginning.

  12. urbia Says:

    Hmm, well, the Twitter-verse mainly comprises of a certain affluent demographic, so I wouldn’t be surprised at the amount of clueless praise. But I can assure you from my travels that people as far as Singapore know about the plight of the indigenous people in Canada (I’m talking Singapore locals, not tourists), and actually go out of their way to fly over to Canada to assist them. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised when I found that out. At the same time, it just highlights how oblivious fellow Canadians are if someone from across the world even knows more about their country’s history than they do.

  13. Mike Barber Says:

    @urbia I’m curious, when you say they “go out of their way to fly over to Canada to assist them” can you be more specific? One of the things I personally struggle with is finding a way to actually be of real help in this situation (beyond being vocal about it).

  14. Brandon Says:

    This article was a waste of time. How can you accept anything it says when it tries to invent words like “othering” and considers people “culturally other”. The author wrote culturally different and used thesaurus.com and thought “culturally other” made sense and sounded right. What a moron.

  15. davidweedmark Says:

    Interesting argument, Brandon. Perhaps you could now write a critique about people who use run-on sentences, and try to personify inanimate objects.

  16. Restructure! Says:

    Brandon,

    I shall assume that your comment is not satirical, because most people are not aware of the technical term “othering”, which is more often used in academic contexts.

    I have updated the post so that the words “othering” and “other” link to a definition, to help out other individuals similar to yourself.

  17. urbia Says:

    @Mike Barber,

    Sorry for the delay. I was out traveling these past two weeks.

    The conversation happened a long time ago and we didn’t get into details at the time, but I was left with the impression that he was trying to raise funds or campaign. This person was a well-to-do Singaporean businessman and had a variety of options open.

  18. Ford Says:

    Pet peeve about a former or theoretical someone living with you?


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