I watched the opening ceremonies of the 11th Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah this past week and like everyone I was amazed at the music and theatrical show that took place. The Olympics is a major world event that is very popular in the remote First Nation northern communities in Canada.
From the time I was a boy growing up in Attawapiskat, I’ve been fascinated by the Olympics. Everyone in my community enjoys the cold season the most so naturally the main Olympic features that my friends and I enjoyed watching were the ones that took place during the winter.
As a boy I enjoyed the fact that many countries from around the world came together to play at these games. My favourite part was the opening ceremonies and watching the parade of nations. I enjoyed hearing about other nations and learning about the different flags they used. During the days of the Olympics my friends and I mimicked the different sports events and created our own competitions on the banks of the river where we did our sliding. Each of us represented our own nation of the world and we competed for the longest jump, the longest distance or who could be the fastest on the hill. Not all of us were lucky enough to have our own toboggans, so we used cardboard, old plastic siding, plywood or just lay on our backs and used our own parkas to hurtle down the steep bank of the river.
We organized the event, kept score and decided amongst ourselves who would have the gold, silver and bronze medal prizes at the end of each event. At home we watched the real Olympic games and as best as we could we kept track of the medals that each of the major countries such as Canada, the United States and the former USSR were winning.
I still enjoy watching the Olympics and the opening ceremonies thrill me. This year was special for me and for every Native person in North America as it was one of the first Olympic ceremonies where Native people played a major role. It was a special surprise for me to watch as the five First Nations of Utah came together to take part in the event. I have seen many pow wows over the years and have always been amazed at the number of dancers and performers that regularly attend these traditional gatherings. The opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics this year featured the greatest number of Native performers and dancers that I have ever seen in one place. It was the granddaddy pow wow of them all.
It felt great to see my people sing traditional songs and perform ancient Native dances. I could see the smiles of pride on the participants as they floated in the midst of thousands of spectators at the arena and through television in homes all across the world.
It was fantastic to see Robbie Robertson, a Native Canadian, take the stage and sing for the audience. He provided great performances with Sadie Buck and other Native singers. Both of these First Nation artists are from the Six Nations area, near Hamilton. Goosebumps covered my skin as I listened to Robbie sing “This Is Indian Land” and I know that young Aboriginal people from all over North America and the world felt a wonderful feeling of pride with the performance. Many of my people feel like second-class citizens living in a world we do not understand but for a few amazing minutes we were brought back down to earth with the sight and sounds of our people. Perhaps as the world seems to become more and more dangerous and confusing we will find a place to stand and to grow in a way that can heal the sickness of violence we have developed.