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Olympic Games agreement to ensure shared prosperity

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Common belief is the 2010 Winter Olympic
Games wouldn't have been awarded to Vancouver had the local First Nations
not lent their backing. That previous Native support is about to be
rewarded.

Following up on an earlier agreement signed in 2004, 17 months after
Vancouver/ Whistler was chosen to host the games, the Four Host First
Nations and the Vancouver Organizing Committee have set the standards in
aboriginal partnership during the most celebrated sporting event in the
world.

A protocol has been signed to ensure meaningful aboriginal participation,
including economic and cultural opportunities for the residents of the
Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations in Vancouver and the
Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

Most of the sports and activities of the Winter Olympics and, later, the
Paralympics will be held on these tribes' traditional territories. When
Vancouver's bid narrowly edged out its closest competition to a South
Korean city, the International Olympic Committee was encouraged because of
the benefits that would be extended to First Nations.

"If it hadn't been for the full support of the Four Host First Nations in
our bid, we likely wouldn't be talking about Vancouver 2010 today," said
Jack Poole, VANOC board chairman, at the protocol's Nov. 30 signing.

At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt
Lake City, aboriginal contributions were nominal at best. The 2010 games,
however, will run right through the heart of thriving Native populations,
so indigenous affairs and concerns cannot be ignored.

Squamish Chief Bill Williams noted the immensity of exposure for his
4,000-member nation, located near downtown Vancouver, with the world coming
to his peoples' doorstep.

"We don't want to be just participants in the opening and closing
ceremonies, as we want all business opportunities of the games," he said.

Among the 12-page document's highlights include clauses pointing out how
the FHFN can have its history and culture promoted during the games as well
as the anticipated lasting social and economic benefits. The protocol also
acknowledges how the FHFN, unlike other partners in the Olympic movement,
do not have the available financial resources and will require assistance
from respective levels of governments.

If the proposal appears vague, the FHFN interim executive director
acknowledges that it is. Tewanee Joseph, in a position created by the
agreement to be the conduit between VANOC and the FHFN, pointed out that
more specific details will be formalized by this spring.

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"By all the partners coming together, and also extending and reaching out
to other aboriginal groups and organizations, I think this has the basis
for success and we'll be able to enrich the 2010 games," Joseph said.

Not just economic objectives and athletic aspirations are being encouraged:
the civilization and ethnicity of the Coast Salish, Interior Salish and
other First Nations will be promoted as well. Williams said that within two
years a $20 million cultural center will be constructed and permanently
housed in Whistler, one of the premier ski resorts in the world.

During the games, traveling pavilions, Web sites and other media will
showcase the art, dance and lifestyle of the local Natives.

"We talk about it locally, but the general public doesn't know that we have
this complete history of who we are as indigenous people of North America,"
said Williams.

While the Squamish, Musqueam and the Tsleil-Waututh are in Vancouver or
along the Sea-to-Sky highway that takes visitors to Whistler's ski slopes,
the Lil'wat are slightly outside from where the Olympic venues will be. An
hour north of Whister, it could be easy to ignore this reserve during the
international hoopla.

Yet because of this proposal, Lil'wat Chief Leonard Andrew says many of the
youth within his band's enrollment of 2,000 have dreams that are
attainable.

"A lot of the youth will get involved: and not only in sports, but the
training and the employment opportunities," Andrew said. "Therefore the
youth are finally realizing they can be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity."

Because of the preparations involved just in assembling an Olympic bid
proposal for the IOC, Andrew said his band spent two years drafting local
referendums to gain the support of his people. Eventually this harmony had
to be extended through an initiative to the other First Nations.

"It's an unprecedented situation with four nations coming together to
develop a protocol, not only amongst ourselves but with the Olympic
movement; and hopefully it will lay a path for other games because we want
full involvement, not a token involvement," said Andrew.

In preparation for increased eco-tourism and cultural tourism, Williams
mentioned how teenagers and young adults from his band have gone on to
become guides trained in both Native affairs and winter sports activities.
This Ambassador program has already added increased exposure for First
Nations while providing employment.

"This niche is highly prized by the businesses [in the town] in order to
create an experience that's something different," he said. "We hope all
other Olympics will grab on and bring in those people who are true to their
land [other aboriginals] in a meaningful way."