Pemberton’s real legacy 

Opening ceremonies bring Olympics home to Spud Valley

It's opening night of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Pemberton and the occasion is bittersweet.

The community has just opened Pemberton House in the main hall of the community centre. Kitschy decorations on the walls evoke an Old West saloon. A wooden barrel of golden styrofoam hearkens back to the town's roots as a stop on the way to the gold rush in Lillooet.

It's in Pemberton House that the community will experience the Olympic Games, one the world's biggest sporting events taking place just 35 kilometres down the road. An audience grows here, waiting to watch the Opening Ceremonies.

Pemberton, a town renowned for its lush agricultural valley and good hospitality, has been hotly anticipating the Games since they were announced in 2003. It has a personal connection to the Games in Kristi Richards, a moguls skier who will tumble out of the medals before revving up the crowd for a final jump.

It's a bittersweet occasion after the death of Bruce Edmonds, a councillor with the Mount Currie Band of the Lil'wat Nation, whose reserve sits just four kilometres to the east. Bruce was an up-and-coming leader for the band that has a joint council with the Village of Pemberton.

The opening ceremonies for the Olympics reverberate right into Pemberton House, where people are unsure whether the Lil'wat will partake in the ceremonies - an internationally-televised event that is expected by the Four Host First Nations to give exposure on a scale they've never had before. Bruce's family will have had to grant permission for the Lil'wat to participate.

Pemberton, meanwhile, has lately had a difficult time revving up any Olympic spirit. Up until the torch relay came through town Feb. 6 the only signs that the Games were coming were green-and-blue decorations adorning the outside of the local Petro-Canada station. A legacy promised in 2003 has not materialized in any tangible way.

Pemberton House is an attempt by the town's Spirit of B.C. committee to keep the Olympic fever alive. The first night is a test.

Citizens slowly take their seats as the fluorescent lights dim for the opening ceremonies. The excitement in the room builds as CTV broadcasts a montage of images that could only have been taken in Sea to Sky.

A lone snowboarder positions himself atop a mountain overlooking a sublime mountain landscape that's the legacy of millennia of volcanic activity. Pembertonians cheer as he descends a dangerous run and suddenly appears at B.C. Place Stadium, launching himself through one of the Olympic rings.

Next, four totem poles that look to be composed of ice are elevated at centre stage, each of them surrounding a drum. It's here that the Four Host First Nations are introduced - and lo and behold, there are the Lil'wat, standing before an audience of millions in their buckskin clothing and cedar headbands.

Levi Nelson, a youth ambassador at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre and son of Mount Currie Band Councillor Lois Joseph, raises his hands to the air and welcomes the world in English and Ucwalmicw, his people's traditional language.

A CTV commentator continually introduces the Four Host Nations as "Coast Salish peoples," neglecting to mention that Lil'wat are considered Interior Salish, though even that term is meaningless to some within the community.

Inuit and Métis dancers soon join the Four Host Nations at centre stage, along with First Nations from Eastern Canada and the Prairies. Together they dance at centre stage, welcoming Winter Olympic athletes as they enter the stadium.

Chiefs of the Squamish, Lil'wat, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh take their seats in the executive box. Lil'wat Chief Leonard Andrew is seated right behind Stephen Harper and Jacques Rogge.

Pembertonians cheer loudly for a strange assortment of national teams. Australia, of course, draws some serious enthusiasm. So too do the Netherlands and Peru. There's a delayed reaction when Ghana is announced.

The audience doesn't immediately clue in that the Ghana team's lone athlete, the legendary Snow Leopard, is staying in Pemberton at Drumkeeran House on Ivey Lake. The town finally has its distinguished guest in a long shot athlete from a country where it never snows.

The Jamaican bobsled team, which had previously planned to stay in Pemberton, has not qualified for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The ceremonies go on and viewers from Pemberton quietly rejoice that the Olympic Games are finally here. Kids stand atop a podium with medals made of construction paper hanging from their necks. A young girl running throughout the hall affixes a miniature flag atop a rolled up poster and waves it above her, pretending she's the national team's torchbearer.

Mayor Jordan Sturdy, the man who has overseen Pemberton's operations as it's fought for a legacy, is pleased at the ceremony and seems excited for the events the Games will bring.

"This is just the beginning," he says. "I think that our legacy is going to be more personal.

"I can't wait for the hockey games."



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