Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Olympic Flame...Government Shame?

Seems as the 2010 Olympic flame criss-crosses Aboriginal communities, issues such as environmental, social conditions, and past experiences are exposed. The latest headline read, “The flame arrives, but Inuit still await an apology,” outlined in the Nov. 10, 2009 issue of the GLOBE AND MAIL.

In recent years, the federal government has been mired in a caseload of claims regarding students who have experienced the former residential school system and are living the legacy of physical and sexual abuses by the various churches. After some pressure from former students and politically bodies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally apologized on national television in June, 2008 to all Aboriginal people for its 130 years of institutional ill-fated attempt to assimilate and integrate the First Nation, Inuit, and M├ętis people. Apology accepted.

Seems another apology is warranted, This time, in the historic relocation of Northern Quebec Inuit to what is now the community of Resolute and, may I add, the community of Grise Fiord both located in desolate locations in what is now Nunavut. In 1953, “families (were) dumped and abandoned by Ottawa…” According to Inuit Survivors still living today, the federal government promised to return a year later to bring them back south to their former homes in Northern Quebec. They’re still there. One of them was George Eckalooh who as 11 years old at the time said, “My parents tried to get back to Quebec but the government never gave them an opportunity.” Apparently, this government initiative was to address the sovereignty issue during the beginnings of the Cold War.

While there has been financial compensation offered to the dislocated Inuit, they want “to get the one thing the people of Resolute Bay want most: an apology from Ottawa.” Still, the Inuit of Resolute have taken part in the celebration of the 2010 Olympic flame as George Eckalooh says, “If the torch makes them (youth) happy, or better still inspires them to do great things, then its presence here will have been worth it.”

In the end, the dislocated Inuit would like the federal government to do one great thing….apologize.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Olympic Torch...Olympic Torture?

I must commend the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) in being all-inclusive in the sharing of the Olympic torch in the relay as it has already criss-crossed a number of Aboriginal communities. The latest story was outlined in the Nov. 05, 2009 edition of the GLOBE AND MAIL with the headline of, “In a changing North, the torch recalls tradition.”

The image of the torch being carried by Old Crow Gwitchin member, Martha Benjamin, a former national x-country ski champion, being pulled on sled by a dog team had given me a sense of pride on who we are first as Aboriginal people and secondly as Canadian. The torch is and will continue to draw attention to climate change and how it is affecting Canada’s Indigenous people in the North. Climate change affects the land and sea and, in turn, affects the people who depend on that land and sea for subsistence and their identity. In the Old Crow Gwitchin case, the article focused on how much they have and still depend on the Porcupine caribou herd migration through their area. I know. I visited and seen it and do have a number of friends who live in Old Crow including the Chief, Joe Linklater. Joe had said, “Our identity has always been tied up with the caribou, our heritage, our cultural identity. Now there is a real question of whether there will be caribou to hunt and salmon to fish.” The caribou numbers are down and their migration routes have become less predictable.

Like all Aboriginal communities, the Gwitchin of Old Crow are a sharing people and are certainly willing to share the Olympic flame with other Canadians. An Old Crow member named, Kyikavichik had said, “The relay was founded on the notion of sharing, and had its own share of hurdles to confront as well.”

The biggest hurdle for the Old Crow Gwitchin though could be climate change and its effect on their identity with the loss of their caribou. The caribou are bigger than the Olympic torch…by now the Olympic torch is gone and will not return to Old Crow…for the Gwitchin they expect the caribou to return every year…if not, it could be torture.