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Salt Lake Olympics 2002 will honor tribes

SALT LAKE CITY - When the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee approached tribes in 1998 to participate in the Winter Games 2002, they made history. Lake Placid, Squaw Valley, Atlanta, Los Angeles - no U.S. Olympic venue had ever officially opened its doors to the tribes before.

Taking their cue from the media impact Aboriginal people had at the summer games in Australia, participating tribes are not taking the invitation lightly.

Former Ute tribal council member Larry Blackhair has taken the ball handed him two years ago by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) and run with it. Establishing Native American 2002 Foundation as a 501 C (3) non-profit organizational vehicle, Blackhair's first step was to approach the Utah tribes, asking for their participation and support.

But the enormous financial outlay necessary to coordinate the presence of dozens of tribes and at least 2,000 tribal members from around the country during the 18-day games proved prohibitive.

Eventually, with support resolutions from the National Congress of American Indians, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Association, the Utah Tribal Leaders Association and the Arizona Tribal Leaders Association, Blackhair attracted board members and participation from the Coeur D'Alene, Oneida, Goshute, Havasupai and Shoshone-Bannock tribes.

Now, in yet another encouraging move by the SLOC, Blackhair says he received a letter indicating tribal foundation board members will be accorded the same honor as a state senator or any other political figure during the opening ceremonies.

A nine member board is planned.

In October, the existing board selected the Shoshone-Bannock tribe as the official host tribe and handed off the task of coordinating tribes and arranging facilities.

Now the games have truly begun.

With only 13 months before the opening ceremonies, everyone connected to the Olympics is scrambling to arrange whatever venues, transportation and rooms are left. Beds are at a premium, but in this sport venue space is king. Venues mean exposure and exposure means money.

Positive public relations and the development of international tourism connections are just two potential Olympic assets.

So far, plans include an inter-tribal hospitality center and an activity center where tribes can present educational material and host ceremonial dances. Individual booths to display commercial art and crafts created by tribal members are also on the list. But Shoshone-Bannock Olympic coordinator Delbert Farmer stresses that time is of the essence for tribes to get involved if they want a solid presence at the Olympics.

"We want to interact with as many tribes as we can," he says.

Ideally, at least 18 different tribes would come forward to sponsor a lunch or exhibition - or both - every day of the games.

"We would like to share some of the responsibility with other tribes," Farmer says. "We're not able to 100 percent be the host like you think of a host ... and plan all these great things and foot the bill. We can't do that. That's impossible. I don't think any tribe could.

"But with a number of tribes working together, I think we could do something."

The spirit of cooperation has always been a main theme of competitive sporting events - whether between the tribes of the Americas hundreds of years ago, or between Olympic contestants over the centuries. And cooperation is something Blackhair and Lionel Boyer, chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, are urging.

But despite the call for unity, the backing of national Indian organizations and the support of SLOC, the Native Americans 2002 Foundation and the Shoshone-Bannock tribe are already competing with the Navajo Nation for venue space.

Blackhair said the Navajo Nation has planned its own program and has booked a prime location near the Delta Center where the medal awards are scheduled.

If a central location cannot be found in Salt Lake City, other participating tribes may find themselves scattered over separate locations. Park City, where the skiing events will take place, is one possibility. But with different events occurring simultaneously at different venues, coordination and transportation difficulties increase. And tribes may find themselves inadvertent competitors for attention as tourists flock from one attraction to the next.

To make matters worse, the tiered overseeing system of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee makes it difficult for decisions pertaining to the opening ceremonies and other official events to be made in a timely manner.

"We had been participating with the foundation a year ago and we had developed some video presentations for the Olympic Committee for their review and consideration," says Boyer. "They wanted traditional dances from each of the tribes in the foundation. But we don't know where they are with that. We may have to develop and do our own thing outside of the Olympics."

The foundation and the Shoshone-Bannock tribe are still looking for partners to step forward to develop dance productions and other tribal events. But to be included in the official Olympic schedule, producers will have to foot the bill themselves and have pertinent credentials to show the committees.

"The problem is, it's kind of getting late in the game for fund-raising and those kind of things," says Farmer.

One suggestion is for tribes to use their trust relationship with agencies in the federal government for support.

"If they had money for educational purposes, we could use some of that," says Farmer. "A lot of these agencies like the BLM and Forest Service have entities that build exhibits and all kinds of different things.

"But first we need to establish a very clear picture of what the tribes are doing and then go from there."