For the first time in Canadian history, Canada’s Aboriginals will not just be a token mention at the Olympic and Paralympics Games but a full-fledged partner and the official hosts as well.

The Four Host First Nations (FHFN) for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games are the Lil’wat, the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh and many of the Olympic events will be held on their traditional territory.

As official partners to the 2010 games, Canada’s Indigenous people won’t just be part of the décor, their presence will be evident throughout the entirety of the Olympics.

For Lil’wat First Nation Chief Leonard Andrew, official partnership is a source of hope in the sense that the Vancouver Olympics might be able to do for Canada’s Aboriginals what it did for China in 2008. Not only will Canada’s rich Aboriginal culture and history be showcased, the event is also an opportunity to draw attention to the many issues First Nations, Métis and Inuit people experience daily.

“In many ways, we have been painted very negatively. We talk about the homelessness, we talk about the hungry and the poor and it could go on and on. As Olympic hosts we want to show the rest of the world that there is a flipside to all of this. We are a living and breathing culture and that’s what we want the world to see,” said Andrew.

On February 2, chiefs from across Canada along with the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council met in Vancouver with federal MPs, Mayor Gregor Robertson, John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, and Tewanee Joseph, CEO of the FHFN to witness an important event. The official partnership between the FHFN was signed and a cultural celebration followed.

Female Elders in traditional garb blessed the signing ceremony followed by traditional drummers and singers flooding the auditorium through the aisles where the witnesses sat. World champion hoop dancers and traditional drummers also took centre stage at the event to whet the world’s appetite for the cultural explosion of the 2010 Games.

The February 2 event was not just an official public signing ceremony, it was also used to unveil the first glimpses of the actual First Nations pavilion. Centred on a 65-foot high, inflated multi-media sphere, the pavilion will use the latest technology to showcase the diversity of Aboriginal art, business, culture and sport from across the country. The building itself will consist of a 3,000 square-foot sphere, surrounded by a Coast Salish Longhouse.

“It won’t be just a cultural showcase of just our group but really all of the groups across Canada and the north. For now, the plan is to have them come forward again to show the world what their culture is all about,” said Andrew.

At the same time, Aboriginals partnering up for the Games have also opened up the doors for funding to be set aside for the youth of Canada’s First People to visit the games, fraternize with Team Canada and broaden their own cultural horizons.

Aboriginal businesses from across Canada will have the opportunity to bid for sponsorship deals of events and Indigenous artists will get a similar opportunity to be part of the many showcase events at the Games.

“I think this is an opportunity for the young people to come forward, the artists and the best of the performers. I think that within the Cree Nation we have a lot of people who have potential to be visible in terms of what they do whether it’s sports or music or other forms of art,” said Grand Chief Matthew Mukash.

Though the Crees will have the opportunity to send a cultural delegation to the Games, what that will consist of Mukash could not say as he felt that it was premature at this point in time. After the years of negotiating that Canada’s Aboriginal people had to go through to become a major player in this Olympic Games, Mukash was just happy to see it all come together.

“We had to do a lot of work to get the Aboriginal people to be part of the Olympic Games and to have the pavilion. I think that it is really up to us as Aboriginal people as to how we want to portray ourselves and what kind of message we want to give the world. Do we just want them to learn about our culture and arts or do we have a message to give to the world? I am sure that they will hear the story one way or another,” said Mukash.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games kick off next February 12.