Builders and destroyers


In a month where Mother Nature has revealed signs of spring, chastised anyone who thought that winter might be over, and hinted that another great flood may be part of the forecast, emotions have risen and plummeted like the freezing level. And it’s only the middle of March.

A snakes and ladders week began with VANOC promoting Aboriginal involvement in the Olympics with the launch of three posters that celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal athletes. An Inuit speed skater, a Métis who competes in biathlon and a Wet’suwet’en snowboarder are featured in the campaign. None are sure bets to compete in the 2010 Olympics but in VANOC CEO John Furlong’s words, “These three athletes have dreamed bigger, reached higher and have celebrated what’s possible when you try.”

A somewhat different message was heard on Thursday when the Native Warrior Society claimed responsibility for stealing an Olympic flag from Vancouver city hall. A release from the group said they did it in honour of Harriet Nahanee “our elder-warrior, who was given a death sentence by the BC courts for her courageous stand in defending Mother Earth.”

Nahanee is the 71-year-old elder who was sentenced to 14 days in jail for protesting the highway construction at Eagleridge Bluffs. She died in St. Paul’s Hospital Feb. 24 after serving nine days of her sentence. She had pneumonia and previously-undiagnosed lung cancer.

The Native Warrior Society release included a photo of three people wearing balaclavas, holding the Native Warrior Society flag and a photo of Nahanee. The three, with fists raised, stand in front of an Olympic flag. The image has been carried around the world by wire services. The VANOC posters have, to date, received less coverage.

The Native Warrior Society release concluded with the message: “No Olympics on Stolen Land.” That’s the same phrase that has adorned the entrance to the proposed Cayoosh ski area for years. It’s a potentially toxic message that ignores the fact the four First Nations whose traditional territory includes the land the Olympics will take place on are all involved in and supportive of the Games.

This was a point that Squamish Chief Bill Williams made on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network on Friday. In a moment that sent emotions into another U-turn, Williams invited First Nations Olympic protesters to talk with the young people of the Squamish Nation about the Games and the opportunities they are presenting.

The Squamish Nation’s plans do not please everyone. For instance, there is little public support for their billboard initiative in the Lower Mainland. But what the Squamish Nation is doing is what most people, native and non-native, have long argued for: taking control of their future. And they can do that now because they have the means to do it. The Olympics are a little part of that means.

And then Saturday the roller coaster took another nosedive. The first murder in Whistler in more than 30 years was as pointless and tragic as all murders. It just happened in Whistler Village. And it took the life of Michael Boutros, a young man whose family had left the conflict and strife of Lebanon for a more peaceful, hopeful life in Canada.

“I came here because this was a peaceful country,” the dead man’s father, George Boutros, told the Globe and Mail. “We came to build a family here, and now it is becoming like Lebanon on the street.”

One presumes Mr. Boutros is talking about the use of guns and violence, and while the situation isn’t like Lebanon you can forgive a grieving father.

But what is lost in the shooting, and in the Native Warrior Society’s actions, is a little bit of that sense of the future that spurs some people to build things. In its place is a little seed of doubt, courtesy of those who seem bent on tearing things down.

There is room for legitimate protest. There is room for disagreement and criticism. Those are elements of a tolerant society that previous generations of people have built and that requires continuous maintenance.

How much room we allow those who tear things down is a matter for every one of us to decide.

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