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Holding the Olympic legacy

Now that the 2010 Winter Olympics are over, First Nations in British Columbia, Canada are hoping the warm feelings will extend far beyond the games.

For the first time in Olympic history, indigenous people were involved. Four host First Nations planned the event alongside the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

The international spotlight was certainly on the West Coast, in Vancouver where the Winter Games were held. There, First Nations were highlighting issues to media: poverty, rights and title, and lack of government action on a couple of key concerns.

Perhaps the two largest issues include Canada’s neglect to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the call for a National Public Inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in the country.

The British Columbia All Chiefs Task Force, a coordinated action committee meant to raise awareness about the issues wonders how long the legacy of the Winter Games will last.

The task force is calling on the Canadian government to initiate a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. According to the Web site there have been more than 500 missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada, with little or no media attention, police treatment, or government attention over the past 15 years.

Amnesty International has produced a lengthy report on the issue: “Stolen Sisters,” completed in 2004. As follow up to that report, the organization released another last fall, “No More Stolen Sisters;” it calls for a national plan of action to end violence against indigenous women.

The task force is also pressing Canada to sign the Declaration. Prime Minister Stephen Harper told media last fall the human rights instrument was “unworkable,” and he was concerned about the language of the document.

Article 26 of the Declaration states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”

But with all the hype the Olympics brought to the forefront through international media, Chief Wayne Christian, with the task force is not confident the warm feelings will last.

The task force initiated a post card campaign and radio service announcement ads related to the two issues. Christian pegs the number of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada at six times the number originally released by Amnesty International.

“We’re calling upon Canadians to send the postcard to Prime Minister Harper so he can sign onto it [UN Declaration], and the second issue is the missing and murdered women. Nationally, there’s 500 confirmed, but there’s an estimate over 3,000. So, we’re requesting a public inquiry, and asking the public to get involved with the post card campaign and to also e-mail the Prime Minister.”

Christian’s colleague on the task force, Chief Beverley Clifton Percival, said it was an ideal time to highlight the issues; and there are other issues closer to home, “In this province we have the unsettled land question and the Crown has refused to deal with it in a just manner.”

Percival said there’s not a moment to lose when it comes to urging government for a national public inquiry. “It’s really critical for us. We come from a society that’s matrilineal, where women play an important role and we now have lost generations of women in our communities and there has been absolutely no attention paid.

“We’ve seen inquiries happen in other instances in other groups of people. But it seems to me that one of the most marginalized populations that has lost an increasing large number of women has not been looked at, has not been investigated, and has not seen any kind of remedies sought to stop this violence against women in our communities.”

For the moment though, the spotlight continues to shine on the task force’s campaigns. “We’re getting quite a few hits on our blogs on a daily basis, and quite a few downloads,” Christian said.

He said Canada needs to live up to its nationalism and patriotism it had during the Olympics and sign onto the Declaration.

Percival said the task force’s work will continue long after the Olympics. “We respect what the Olympics mean, and the countries, but we realize also that we have an opportunity to share our story and apply political pressure to the prime minister and the premier of this province.”