Monday, December 1, 2008

Native Canadians Protest 2010 Olympics

November 25, 2008
Haider Rizvi, OneWorld US

NEW YORK, Nov 25 (OneWorld) - A peaceful protest against the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was broken up by riot police last week, but human rights groups and indigenous communities are vowing to continue to oppose what they say are misplaced priorities and the forced evictions of low-income people.

"No Olympics on stolen native land," is the slogan that has become a rallying point for activists protesting the role of corporate interests in building the venue for world sports in Vancouver.
Indigenous groups and housing advocates charge that corporations involved in the business of the Olympics are not only causing environmental damage but are also driving locals out of their homes.

"The history of the Olympics is one rooted in displacement, corporate greed, repression, and violence," stated the Olympics Resistance Network (ORN), a coalition of native rights and anti-poverty groups.

Last Thursday, the coalition and its sympathizers staged a peaceful protest in Vancouver against the abuse of native lands. Police responded with force and made several arrests.

The protest took place at a time when more than 200 international reporters were present in the northwestern Canadian city to get a glimpse of the Olympics preparations.

Activists complain that most members of the foreign press, however, failed to report the other side of the Olympics story: police violence against peaceful protesters.

"Canada wants to present itself as this great country where human rights are celebrated, but we see here clear violations of aboriginal rights," Ben Powless, an indigenous activist, told OneWorld.

"They used riot squads. But we were not about to give up just yet."- Marylynn Poucachiche, activist

In addition to the United States, Canada is one of the few nations that voted against last year's United Nations resolution to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The historic declaration calls for the recognition of the world's 370 million indigenous peoples' right to control their ancestral lands and resources and their right to practice their traditional way of life.

Indigenous activists contend that the Canadian government has no right to use their land in Vancouver to stage the Olympics, because the natives of British Columbia never signed a treaty to surrender their lands.

In this context, they cite the British Royal Proclamation requiring legal surrender of the sovereign territories to the crown, which never took place. The 1763 Proclamation is part of Canadian law.

Thus, as the natives' legal argument goes, neither the central government nor the provincial one has the legal or moral authority to govern British Columbia.

"This is a government that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They are violating indigenous rights, in addition to destroying many sensitive environments," said Powless.

Contrary to official claims about the economic and social benefits of the Games, activists say the Olympics arrangements are posing a threat to the urban poor, the environment, and human rights.

In the city of Vancouver, for example, according to some accounts, the authorities have taken over several low-income housing projects and promised to provide alternate accommodations by 2010.

Activists say they are outraged that the government has cut health and education spending while providing billions of dollars to corporations engaged in the Olympics business.

"The capitalists are making millions, while the poor are literally dying in the urban and reservation ghettos," according to activist-writer Zig-Zag, who contributes to the Web-based publication EarthFirst Journal.

The Journal reports that in the east of downtown Vancouver, over 500 units of low-income housing have already been lost since Vancouver won its Olympics bid in 2003.

"Hundreds of people have been evicted as landlords upgrade their hotels for Olympic tourists," according to the Journal. "Police have begun criminalizing the poor to clean up the streets [as well]."

Like many indigenous thinkers and activists, Powless, who has attended a number of international meetings on climate change and indigenous peoples' rights, is visibly angry.

"We've had our elders put in jail for opposing this senseless destruction," he said. "We've had many of our homeless forced out of whatever limited housing they do have to make way for rich tourists."

There have also been reports of government efforts to pay off tribal leaders, but most observers agree that would not prevent a vast majority of natives from joining the protests.

"All of those folks are coming together here during the Olympic Games to try and tell the other half of the story through creative, non-violent action," activist Garth Mullins told the Canadian Press.

Last week, some native leaders sent a joint letter to the Canadian Prime Minister urging him to address their concerns over the issue of the Winter Olympic Games and their impact on natives' land and living situations.

Meanwhile, others vowed to arrange more protests all over the country in the coming months and years -- until the Olympic flame arrives in Vancouver for the opening of the Games in February 2010.

"They used riot squads," said activist Marylynn Poucachiche, who was the first one to be arrested by the police during Thursday's protest. "But we were not about to give up just yet."
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