Metis groups debate Winter Olympics' value
Marcel Chalmers says he isn’t at liberty to disclose whether Métis people will play a role in the opening and closing ceremonies of next month’s Olympics in Vancouver. But the 2010 Winter Games coordinator for the Métis Nation British Columbia told the Georgia Straight that his people are “heavily involved” in the 17-day event.
“It’s just going to be one big happy time for all Métis who want to be a part of it and be there,” Chalmers said during an interview in the MNBC’s head office in downtown Vancouver. “We’re well represented. We’re well connected artisan-wise, employee-wise. It’s going to be phenomenal.”
Sitting beside Chalmers, Bruce Dumont, the elected president of the 5,000-citizen MNBC, and Malonie Langthorne, the organization’s chief executive officer, sounded their agreement.
Next Friday (January 29), Chalmers and Langthorne will carry the Olympic flame when the torch relay reaches Quesnel. Their Keeping It Riel team, composed of 19 MNBC staff members, will run with the torch for one kilometre. At least 42 of the cross-country relay’s 12,000 torchbearers are Métis, and there are three Métis flame attendants.
On February 15, the 2010 Aboriginal Pavilion, located on the plaza of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, will host a daylong celebration of Métis culture featuring dancers and musicians from across Canada, such as the Asham Stompers and Summer Sage. During the Games, Métis performances will also be seen at live sites in Vancouver and Surrey as well as the Saskatchewan Pavilion, and Métis artists will display their work at the Aboriginal Artisan Village. The colourful Métis sash will be an officially licensed product on sale at Olympic venues.
Chalmers wasn’t aware of any Métis athletes competing in the Olympics. According to him, more than 85 Métis people have gotten jobs linked to the Games, and Métis families will receive some of the furniture from the Olympic Village when the athletes go home. These benefits stem from a 2007 agreement the MNBC and the Métis National Council inked with the Four Host First Nations Society, which represents the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, on whose territories the Games will take place.
However, not all Métis groups are pleased with the unprecedented level of Métis participation in the Games.
Mark MiLan had hoped to exhibit his assemblage art and sell the pouches and shoulder bags he makes using Métis sashes through one of the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee’s aboriginal-participation programs. The Métis Cree artist was denied the chance because he hasn’t obtained a citizenship card from the MNBC, which requires proof that one is a descendant of the historic Métis Nation based in Western Canada.
“Right now, there’s no Métis opportunities for a company like mine, and I’m the only Métis promotions company of its kind in Canada,” MiLan said by phone from his home studio in False Creek South.
J. Paul Stevenson, president of the 2,000-member Vancouver Métis Community Association, argues Vanoc should have worked with “Métis people in general”, because many aboriginal people identify as Métis but aren’t MNBC citizens or don’t meet MNBC’s citizenship requirements. Statistics Canada’s 2006 census found 59,445 people in the province who identified as Métis, including 15,075 in Metro Vancouver.
“I think that any Métis person should have the right or the opportunity at least to participate equally with any other Métis group,” Stevenson, who personally believes the Olympics are a waste of public funds, said on his cellphone in Vancouver. “Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works.”
For Leonard Laboucan, the level of Métis participation in the Olympics is disappointing. He’s the president of the 200-member Vancouver Métis Cultural Society, a chartered community of the MNBC, and he called the opportunities offered to Métis businesses “pretty dismal”.
“We can sit here until the flipping crows come home and all that,” Laboucan said via cellphone from Williams Lake, where he was on business. “But you know something? At the end of the day and all that, MNBC, as far as I’m concerned, dropped the ball—and you can quote me on that.”
Jessica Mikolayczyk is the spokesperson for the United Native Nations Society, whose 11,000 members include off-reserve First Nations and Métis people in B.C. According to her, many of her organization’s members in Vancouver tend to be disadvantaged in comparison to other residents. With billions of dollars being spent to put on the Olympics, Mikolayczyk wishes the federal and provincial governments would pony up more money to address poverty, homelessness, and unemployment.
“You take a look at the Olympic Games, and only those with quite a sizable income will be able to enjoy the Olympic experience,” Mikolayczyk said by phone from Hazelton. “Those that are most disadvantaged, they’re not going to be able to be involved.”
Langthorne maintained that the MNBC’s goal was to create as many Olympic opportunities as possible for Métis people in B.C. and across Canada with the organization’s limited staff and budget.
“But I think with the resources, with the time spent—it’s been a contribution of many throughout the MNBC—that we’ve put our best foot forward, and I think we’ll be showcased,” Langthorne said.
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