March 7, 2010

The movement against the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver would be hard to label a success or a failure.

Comment by Rick Gunderman
A view from Hamilton, Ontario

The movement against the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver would be hard to label a success or a failure.

The movement was successful in the sense that they were not silenced – despite facing a most childish opposition. There were many reasons to oppose the 2010 Olympics: British Columbia is 100% unsurrendered Native land; public funds desperately needed for infrastructure and services were spent on Olympic venues and advertising; the security and police in Vancouver were witnessed behaving in disturbingly fascistic ways; environmental destruction; the corporate advertising frenzy that some might say degrades the quality of the sports, etc.

In response, colonialist-nationalists and narrow-minded sports enthusiasts alike whipped out the same old tired, meat-headed, and/or racist responses.

First was to attack the Native peoples resisting the Olympics. They were slandered as unpatriotic (in the sense that a Puerto Rican must be patriotic to the US), rabble-rousing (like the anti-slavery activists of the 1800s or the civil rights activists of the last century were dubbed), or taking action too late (despite decades of persistent court battles over land issues that the Canadian government saw as no high priority).

For some reason, the tax arrangements that the Canadian government made with the various Native nations seemed relevant vis á vis the Olympics to many of the colonialists. This in ignorance of the fact that many Natives live on either underdeveloped reserves or in poverty-stricken urban areas, making taxes simply a hassle they need not face but nothing that keeps them from struggling in their daily lives. Not to mention the tax arrangements were made hundreds of years ago, but that of course is of no consequence to the colonialist argument.

What seems to be at the root of the anti-Native sentiment is the irredentist, conquistador, assimilation mentality that permeates Canadian society regarding the original inhabitants of this land. It’s not as if they are all overtly racist, although a healthy heaping of them certainly are. Instead, the idea is simply that if Natives want to “succeed” (i.e. become good workers for the capitalists), they must give up their culture, land and identity and simply become Canadian like the rest of us. Some might notice how this ideology is also applied to Quebec and French-speaking Canadians in general.

The saddest part of this is that many holders of this viewpoint don’t realize the harm caused by their mentality – indeed, I believe many see themselves as peace-loving, equality-minded individuals. But they see “Canada” as a monolithic ideal, and the Canadian identity as something that must be held by all residents of this land. French-speaking or Native-descended citizens who resist having their cultural identity imperialistically replaced are seen as nothing more than shit-disturbers.

It’s a sad scar on the face of Canada that we love to hide. We broadcast and, in the case of these Olympics, advertise our identity to the world, telling them that we have no racism here, no violence, no social upheaval. We tell the world that Canada is the land of peace, and never is that more enthusiastically embraced than in the context of the “we are not America” aspect of our identity.

Against the ostensibly united Canada seen in our English-speaking settler-towns and countryside, the Quebec independence referendums and the Native-police confrontations of the past thirty or so years testify to the reality of our history and its consequences. Far from being simply “une épopée des plus brillants exploits”, our history is first conquest, then division, then assimilationism. Anybody who cares to read deeper into Canadian history than what’s offered by grade ten courses on the subject would be all too aware of that.

But this is not the Canada that we have been trying to build. Since the ascent of Pierre Elliot Trudeau to the prime ministry in the 1960s, our national project has been to make what it means to be “Canadian” multidimensional, unlike the melting-pot ideals that pervade south of the border. We are hyphenated in our unity - one can be an “Irish-Canadian”, “Serbian-Canadian”, “Chinese-Canadian” or “French-Canadian” at home but simply a “Canadian” when travelling abroad, proud to hold a Canadian passport.

Have we failed, then, to understand what this means regarding French and Native Canada? Have we, English Canada, monopolized what it means to be a Canadian?

This is the trouble with these Olympics, for as an English-speaking Canadian I cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride at what was accomplished in Vancouver. Not only in the athletes whose prowess at their sports brought pride to the hearts of Canadians, but also in the working Canadians whose hands built these Olympics. They are a testament to what we are capable of as a nation.

As a socialist, and therefore as a person who trembles at injustice, I cannot in good conscience call these games a success. The poor of Vancouver, the working people who still struggle to stay afloat, the Natives who came looking for a better life and were met with poverty wages, these people were cheated out of a place in Canada’s Olympic sun. The behaviour of the RCMP and Vancouver Police in doing what they could to prevent criticism of the games from being too public runs counter to the Canadian-claimed spirit of freedom of expression.

Contrary to what many may believe, socialists are not anti-sport. Rather, every socialist country in modern history has put great emphasis on sports and physical activity as a way of bringing the people together in unity.

So why, then, are so many socialists opposed to our Olympics?

Because sports are for people, not for profit. Corporate profiteers engage in a virtual bidding orgy every time the Olympics come around, hoping to snap the best advertising timeslots and prices. It is disgusting that Canada’s 2010 Olympics were, behind the pride in our athletes, nothing but a cash-grab by the already over-fed rich men of our nation.

If in the future we have a socialist revolution, and it comes time for the People’s Republic of Canada to host the Olympic Games, it will be a grand celebration of our country and the nations that live within it. It will be a spectacular show of the skills of Canadian athletes and the might of the Canadian working class who, as mentioned, are the ones who build every venue, every highway, every podium and every apartment building that make the Olympics happen. Absurd commercials that sickening amounts of money paid for will not be featured in our People’s Olympics.

And in the meantime, it would be helpful for the Canadian government to sign at least one treaty regarding our governance of British Columbia. Do most Canadians know that unlike every other province, BC is in its entirety unsurrendered Native land? Settlement on unsurrendered lands was illegal back then even under our own laws. It’s high time something was done about that.

Remember, colonialists: every reaction is caused by an equal and opposite action. If the Natives are reacting to something, stop and ask yourself what action caused them to react instead of making mindless, racist conclusions. It’s time for Canada to step out of the 18th Century, we are not colonists anymore.

Colonialist - one who advocates a colonial system or the colonization of a country or people; an ideologue.

Colonist - one who participates in a colonial project as a pawn, and not a power-broker, of the colonial system
one who lives on conquered land but does not necessarily support or even know the workings of the colonial system.

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