Indigenous Canadians get spotlight at Games

- By Erik Brady USA TODAY

VANCOUVER — Though she wore it around her neck, Clara Hughes said that hummingbir­d pendant was actually the wings on her skates in these Games.

The necklace was a gift of the family of Tewanee Joseph, chief of the Four Host First Nations.

“This was given to me by my friends,” Hughes said, showing off the necklace Thursday. “They gave it to me at a ‘brushing-off’ ceremony I was honored to have a week before these Games.”

Hughes won bronze in women’s long-track speedskati­ng 5,000 meters Wednesday, adding to gold, silver and bronze in other Winter Games and two cycling bronze in the 1996 Summer Games. She is the only athlete from any country to win multiple medals, Summer and Winter.

“I credit this with giving me some wings on the ice,” she said of the silver hummingbir­d, “just that sense of peace and strength through these Games.”

The Winter Olympics are taking place on the shared traditiona­l territorie­s of Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and TsleilWaut­uth First Nations.

The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee says support of the Four Host First Nations, as they are designated collective­ly, played an important part in the IOC awarding the Games to Vancouver. And these aboriginal nations, as well as others across Canada, played a prominent role in the opening ceremony — but not in the Games themselves.

Today, Caroline Calve is sched- uled to compete for Canada in parallel giant slalom snowboardi­ng. She is one-sixteenth Algonquin, owing to her paternal greatgrand­mother. She was not aware of her connection growing up.

“I have native heritage,” she wrote in an e-mail, “but am not of First Nation status.”

Calve has embraced her native heritage. She is a member of the First Nation Snowboard team and appeared at an event before the Games where Nike announced it would include Canada in a program it has run in the USA for more than 10 years that supports sports in native communitie­s.

“We need First Nation athletes in the Games for our participat­ion to be complete,” said Janice Forsyth, an expert in aboriginal sport at the University of Western Ontario and a member of Fisher River Cree. “Australia is way ahead of us on this.”

Ted Nolan, an Ojibwa who is a former coach of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, hopes that Olympic attention will lead to more opportunit­ies in sports for First Nation youth.

“The world will hopefully see that a lot of our communitie­s are in third-world conditions,” Nolan wrote in an e-mail. “Canada does need to help. . . . A lot of our youth feel left out. I do believe we have top-notch athletes, but unfortunat­ely they do not have opportunit­ies to compete.”

Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said his group works directly with national federation­s, not with particular constituen­cies, but he said he encourages federation­s to do all they can to help.

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