not everyone was touched by the fact that native Canadian jingle-dancers and a traditional smudge ceremony welcomed members of the International Olympic Committee last week. Shawn Brant, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte says, "I was so pissed off when I found out about that. What the (bid committee) wants to showcase is Indians dressed in regalia dancing around the Skydome, without showcasing the other picture."
As an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Brant is acutely aware of the "other picture." While natives make up about 2 per cent of Toronto's population, they represent about 17 per cent of the homeless. Since last September, Brant has been keeping track of street deaths. So far he's counted 36, and slightly more than half the victims were native. "There's an attempt to bill Toronto as a multicultural and aboriginal-positive city, and that's simply not the case," says Brant.
But the mass Aboriginal dissent that marked the Sydney Games in 2000 hasn't emerged here yet. Calls to a number of front-line First Nations service organizations from Anishnawbe Health to the Native Women's Resource Centre reveal that many groups have no position on the Games.
As well, it's clear that T.O.-Bid is encouraging native participation and eluding confrontations. That invitation has been eagerly grasped by the Mississaugas of New Credit, whose reserve is located 32 kilometres southeast of Brantford. They say the Toronto Games would take place on land that was traditionally theirs. (The band was relocated in 1847.) Their active involvement, they say, will lead to economic and skills development.
"We wouldn't be there if we were simply being used as tokens. We refuse to be just a song and dance," says chief Larry Sault, a counsellor of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. He is also grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians and an executive board member of the Toronto Olympic Bid Committee.
There are currently 10 native and Metis representatives working full-time on the bid. Nine are youths who are contracted for 18-month internships. A number of native volunteers are participating in committees.
Sault hopes native involvement will encourage young native athletes to set their sights on excelling in sports.
"We want to seek out our athletes and help create world-class athletes. If Toronto wins the bid, then we'll have seven years to ensure that we find athletic talent and develop it."
The Assembly of First Nations and the Office of Chiefs of Ontario have given the Mississaugas of New Credit their stamp of approval.
Even Rodney Bobiwash of the Centre for World Indigenous Studies is on the Olympic bandwagon. As an anti-poverty activist, he adamantly opposed Toronto's bid for the 2000 Olympics. But now he sits on T.O.-Bid's arts and culture committee and argues that the native community should take advantage of the publicity.
"It would help raise our profile through exposure," says Bobiwash. "We wouldn't get this kind of attention if we were sitting around outside waving protest signs."
He recognizes his position is contentious. "I don't know what the (First Nation) consensus is at this point," he says. "It would be premature to say that there is broad-based support." *