The James Bay Cree have a lot to be excited about with the upcoming 2010 Olympic games!

Not only will the Cree Nation host their own day in the athlete’s village Aboriginal Pavilion to showcase Cree arts but many Cree entities will be presenting themselves at the Aboriginal Business Showcase, Cree craft construction will be demonstrated and some very lucky youth will get to attend the event along with many others.

The Cree Nation’s Justice Director and Olympic Liaison Donald Nicholls said that over 90 Crees will be on hand in various capacities.

According to Nicholls, the Cree’s involvement with the Olympics goes back two years when former Grand Chief Billy Diamond proposed that since the Olympics were coming to Canada it would be a unique opportunity for the youth to participate and benefit from this world event.

The fact that for the first time the Olympics are being hosted by four different First Nations communities in the area – the Lil’wat, the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nations – made it only more appropriate that one of Canada’s most famous Aboriginal communities participate.

In planning the 2010 games, the Four Host First Nations also formed their own secretariat to ensure that various other Indigenous communities from across the country be there to represent their cultures.

“Interestingly enough, the Chiefs of those four Nations have been given Head of State status, just like any other leader of a country; they get special privileges and that recognition,” said Nicholls.

Not only will there be Indigenous presentations throughout the 2010 Games but because of the Four Host First Nations’ participation the games will also feature an Aboriginal Pavilion where major Aboriginal recording artists will perform and First Nations communities will have the opportunities to showcase their cultures. As a partner, the James Bay Cree will have their own day on February 16 to bring the best from their culture to show off to the entire world.

Nicholls said the Four Host First Nations originally wanted just the Crees to participate but then they decided that because of the history of the Cree and the fact that they signed the first modern-day agreement and their comprehensive land claims, they would be a good partner for them to be in the Olympics with. In early 2009, then Grand Chief Matthew Mukash signed a memorandum of understanding with the Four Hosts.

Cree Day will begin at 10am in the Aboriginal Pavilion with the Four Host First Nations and the Vancouver Olympic Committee meeting with Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff for a welcoming ceremony to show appreciation for being a host and a partner in the games.

Iserhoff told the Nation he was very excited to be able to participate in this event on behalf of his Nation. He was particularly thrilled for what this will do for the delegation of youth that will be going to the event.

“I think it is going to be good exposure having the young people there as this is going to be something to really inspire them and show them that if they put their minds, hearts and hard work into making their dreams a reality that it can happen,” said Iserhoff.

At 11am, the first of four showcases will begin and feature Cree artists. These showcases have been arranged by Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association (CNACA) and will feature artists from Eeyou Istchee.

According to Gaston Cooper, Communications and Marketing Officer for CNACA, the showcases will be themed seasonally.

“The first act will be about spring and we have invited performers and artists to showcase their work. At the same time, the performers are going to sing about that season. Spring, for example, will have images of Eeyou Istchee that will tell the story of who we are during the spring, how we live, what we do, and the ceremonies we practice.”

The following three acts will highlight Cree life during the summer, fall and winter. Each will run about 50 minutes and the cream of the Cree Nation will perform. (See the end of the article for a list of Cree performers and which community they are from.) Nineteen individuals will be attending on behalf of CNACA.

According to Cooper, the event will feature traditional musicians and artists who perform various styles of music from rap to rock’n’roll to truly represent the rich culture within the Cree Nation.

Joshua Iserhoff, the Cree Nation Youth Ambassador, will sing at one of the presentations. He is excited and exclaimed that the magnitude of the event has not sunk in.

“I really don’t know what to expect because this will be my first time traveling on an international basis as the youth ambassador. For the first time ever I don’t know what to expect, I don’t know what platform I am going to be on and I am just feeling so darn humble about it. It has not hit me yet how grand the Olympics are going to be.”

Iserhoff will perform Yahweh, a traditional song in Cree that will feature vocals and drums. The song, Rain, was recorded for a compilation put together by Daryl Steve Hester.

Other performers include storyteller Thomas Coon, fiddler Byron Jonah, Francine Weistchee, Melissa Pash, Roger House, Gordon Iserhoff, Richard Bosum, painter Jimmy (Tim) Whiskeychan, snowshoe-makers Bertie and Marian Longchap, tamarack-makers Roderick and Annie Blackned, basket-maker Annie Saganash and Bella Mianscum.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for our artists to showcase their work and also to perform at an international event. This will give our artists an opportunity to see what other communities are doing and, at the same time, experience what it is like to be at the Olympics,” said Cooper.

CNACA went with a similar approach when it came to selecting individuals for the craft demonstrations as there will be Crees on hand from various communities to demonstrate everything from snowshoe making to basket weaving to decoy making.

On Feb. 16, the Cree will host a luncheon where Cree entities will promote themselves. An evening supper will invite other delegates to sample Cree cuisine and Cree culture. The day will also see Canada’s hockey team take on Norway, and Nicholls anticipates that they will be inviting others to take in the game and share Cree fare. All of the catering will be provided by Crees.

And there’s more. The Olympics will also feature an Aboriginal Business Showcase for businesses across Canada to network. Various Cree entities will be on hand to promote their enterprises and some of the Cree artists will also have opportunities to perform again.

Ensuring that the Cree youth benefit from this international event, the Cree Nation Youth Council will have their own delegation attending the Olympics as will the Cree School Board.

Youths from across the Cree Nation were selected by both the CNYC and the CSB so that they will have the opportunity for the tremendous cultural enrichment of the games. According to Nicholls, the Olympic committee has been very generous with the Cree youth in providing them with tickets to different events.

They will also have the opportunity to visit several Aboriginal schools and see some successful programs to maximize the experience for the students.

“With 90 Crees there witnessing and taking this all in, they can bring back a lot of it and share and celebrate Cree artists and Cree culture. Just participating in this world event is a unique opportunity but I think that the experiences that they will bring back and the stories will be equally wonderful and shared within the communities will be amazing as well,” said Nicholls.

Look for more coverage on the Crees at the Olympics in the next edition of the Nation.