Monday, March 8, 2010


This writer started out this post as an innocent attempt to draw attention to the logo of the very successful 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and walked right into a pile of something and some of the sinister undercurrents that seem to have challenged these and I suspect other Olympics. It makes the successful passage of these games even more meaningful and heroic.

Everybody wants a piece of the pie and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are yet another validation of that statement. Having said that - internal politics and territorial / language bickering have no place in any Olympic venue, period. Not so, in Vancouver. The real story here is that the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) was able to ultimately pull off these games despite the tragic death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and some internal squabbles that seem to characterize democratic multi cultural nations. Many such incidents showed to all the world that the entitled and agenda-driven are alive and well in Canada. The old saying that you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all the time seems very appropriate. In Vancouver they pleased some of the Canadian People, part of the time, maybe and the rest of the world, most likely.

The controversies started with the tragic death of Kumaritashvili and continued with the Vancouver Olympic symbol, use of stolen (?) First Nation Lands, whether enough Quebecois French was used in the games (?), was it Francophone enough, Green enough, impartial judging and so on.

There was a lot going on and in that British Columbia boiling pot a couple of seemingly technical, unintended cultural speed breakers have brought criticism down on those same sincere and well intended organizers. It seems appropriate to address a few of those issues.

First of all, what the heck is an Inukshuk? Well, it’s what the Vancouver folks initially adopted as the symbol for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is purely and simply an Inuit stone cairn, a point of reference or navigational device intended to mark a trail, a food cache or even hunting or fishing location. They are also used as memorials or to signify an especial religious or spiritual site. They don’t have many trees in the Arctic (with global warming there are more now) so the most rational permanent material to utilize was (tada) unworked stone (snow melts and now exceedingly so). We need note that the Inuit are part of the native peoples which inhabit the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia (far from BC and the Pacific Northwest). Yep, some folks call them Eskimos.

According to some Inuit the symbol chosen is not an Inukshuk, rather an, Inunguaq (Inunnguaq – plural Inunnguat), a stone cairn that represents a human figure and with a head and arms and legs literally means, ”Imitation of man.” They state that Inuksuits (plural of Inukshuk) are never built with anatomy and are often confused with Inunguat. While nobody has made the observation, it would appear that the Inunguaq is a type of stylized Inukshuk and not so ancient. My Best Friend who happens to be Canadian has had an Inunguaq on her kitchen counter since 2004.

Turns out that the Vancouver logo (named Ilanaaq “Friend”) is based on what they initially thought to be an Inukshuk that was created for the Northwest Territories Pavilion at Expo 86 by Inuit artist Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories (now part of Nunavut) and ultimately donated to the City of Vancouver where it now reposes as a landmark of some note on Vancouver’s English Bay Beach. So, that’s the source of the controversy and we wonder why all this wasn’t addressed and resolved to everybody’s satisfaction back in 1986 or in 2005 when the logo was unveiled. The world was their stage then as now. While we agree with our Inuit Brothers and Sisters their point has been well made and over and over and over… Might of Right wonders why so much of the credit for the creation of the 2010 Olympic Symbol went to a Vancouver designer with little mention or credit given to Kanak who provided the inspiration.

Enter now the First Nations - those native peoples that reside in the Pacific Northwest to include British Columbia. Now, this can get confusing. In order to assert their cultural identity and likewise, negotiate treaties and address their grievances against the local and Canadian governments the great Pacific Northwest cultures (the non Inuit First Nations of British Columbia) have seemingly, successfully broken themselves down into local political, geographic and economic fomented “bands” though most represent and remain part of greater high cultures like the Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl), Coast Salish/Squamish, Lil'wat (Lillooet/ St'at'imc), Nuxalk (Bella Coola), Haida, Musqueam, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), among others.

These First Nations of British Columbia which are a far piece from the Arctic never, ever built Inuksuit and some (not all) in this group remain upset with the choice as this Olympic logo since it is not even remotely a part of their cultures.

Those concerns which were mostly expressed at Ilanaaq’s unveiling in 2005 appear to have been reconciled and did not appear to damper the incredible spirit of the First Nations and their magnificent marathon performance at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Perhaps it was because a Native artist helped design the logo, that the games were hosted in part by four First Nations including the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, that the unique Olympic medals feature Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations artwork depicting the Orca and Raven or finally that the spirit of Friendship and the Olympic Spirit has been all pervasive?

It would appear that the Vancouver Olympic organizers have heaped glory on themselves as they have appropriately upped and celebrated all the Canadian First Nations and their Arctic indigenous Peoples - not just the local flora and fauna of British Columbia. It was a sincere attempt to recognize the cultural heritage of their whole country and this writer says Hoorah and Well done! Bottom line: We of Might of Right feel that the Inunguaq was a great choice though we would have given Inuit Alvin Kanak the credit.

Not so the sentiments of many French speakers in Canada who feel snubbed that there wasn’t more representation and participation of French Speaking Canadians during the Games. We did note that one of my favorites, Celine Dion, was invited to perform but chose to address more personal issues. To this non-Francophile it certainly appears that the effort was there.

British Columbia obviously does not have the demographics of eastern Canada witness that among the 25,000 volunteers only 15% spoke French. We also noted that Renée Smith-Valade the Vice-President of Communications of VANOC and spokesperson for the Vancouver Olympics defended what was, "a very deliberate focus and effort to ensure a strong celebration of Quebec culture and language."

Smith-Valade continued by reflecting that three of the eight Olympic flag bearers were from Quebec, that the stunning acrobatics during the opening ceremonies were performed by École National de Cirque from Montreal, two of the show's chief producers were Québécois, and the final much honored spotlight before the arrival of the Olympic torch went to Quebec singer Garou. We also note that the Olympic Anthem was performed in English and French (when the requirement is either English or Greek) and that all of the English dialogue and quotes were translated into French on large screens around the stadium, a fact conveniently overlooked by Francophone detractors and the media.

Might of Right certainly wonders in a what’s good for the goose is good for the gander perspective why the official signs of Quebec (French is their official language) are not also in English? Seems we have a double standard as the French to Anglo percentage is roughly the reverse of British Columbia. Some say that the French will, “be happy with nothing less than 100% capitulation by the Anglo populations.”

Many Francophone Quebecers appear to engage great insecurity when it comes to multiculturalism. Understandably feeling that their culture and language may be in danger, they reject in Quebec what they demand throughout the rest of Canada. In short, multiculturalism is not wholly embraced in Quebec. Je me Souviens the official motto of the Province of Quebec and on their license plates since 1978, literally means I remember though for many Quebecois it means Ne obliviscaris ("Do Not Forget") what the English did to the French. Indeed, many feel that these Olympic rantings were intended to promote resentment among the Quebecois and fuel the fires of a reemerging Nationalist movement in Quebec.

All this cultural posturing reminded this writer of an example of French bias many years ago whilst visiting Montreal and the Black Watch, the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada. Several American members of the Montreal based 78th Fraser Highlanders stopped and asked for directions to Bleury Street and the Black Watch Armory at the headquarters of a local French Regiment in Montreal. Several officers balked indicating that they could not speak English though their capacity was belied by their smiles. We saw these same gentlemen at a 78th Fraser Highlander Dining Out that same evening where they demonstrated perfect facility in English and to our amusement literally paled when they saw us (we saw them first). We understand they were later reprimanded for their indiscretion. Their Commanding Officer probably brought them a round of drinks and if we had the opportunity we surely would have done the same.

It would appear that despite the British victory in the Seven Year’s War and Confederation the French may ultimately claim the victory in present day Quebec. We sincerely hope that they are able to find some balance in this mess though it will all surely come down to economics.

And then you had a small but very vocal militant Native splinter group in Vancouver that touted the Olympics as the model for exclusion and oppression and the flashpoint for the, “working class and anti-colonial struggle on the West Coast” and called for cancellation of the Olympic Games. They still maintain that all the traditional native lands in BC remain unceeded and therefore still in the domain of the indigenous First Nations.

We will make the fair observation that vanquished or not, treaties or not, the First Nation/Native American concept of land ownership just never existed. They were stewards of the land for all human beings and all life as they knew it. They were a commune of probably the last responsible attitudes and practices regarding the maintenance of all our natural resources and environment. It’s been all downhill since… We wish these folks well and hope that someday they can reconcile themselves with their reality.

Then you have the inevitable charges of bias on the part of the judges. If your athlete didn’t win, well, it had to be because of the judging. This proves again that everyone has an agenda witness the Russians, who continue to protest Evan Lysacek’s victory in Men’s Figure Skating over the Russian champion Evgeni Plushenko. It’s amusing to see such palaver about judging when the Russians (and in their previous life - Soviets) are proven masters at manipulating the judging process witness Munich basketball-1972 and Salt Lake City Pairs Skating-2002, among others. These examples are part of history and just the tip of the iceberg. Part of the old Cold War persists and that’s mostly in the world of sport.

The Soviet, er Russian, protestations, “do not descend from The Mount” and smack of unbalanced petty sniping and a blatant attempt to deflect criticism and mollify those home boys disappointed with the Russian performance in these 2010 Olympic Winter Games. While their athletes participated righteously and did just fine, the spewing vitriol from the Russian hierarchy reflects their frustration with a program in disarray and status as an also ran on the world stage, sports and otherwise (coulda, shoulda, woulda). Reflecting their own Machiavellian past they cannot be gracious in defeat contrary to the Olympic Spirit.

Now, I didn’t have a dog in this fight and was just looking to see the sport elevated and “the best athlete win.” I think Lysacek - already the 2009 World champion - was better in this competition and the post contest carping by Plushenko and whining, bickering and political maneuverings by the Russians validated that conclusion and really turned me off.

While Plushenko is a brilliant jumper, it appeared to me that Lysacek (in this competition) was much more fluid, had better transitions and landed his jumps cleaner elevating the athleticism and artistry that personifies this event. While he didn’t land a quad he engaged a superior overall performance – and that’s the name of the game. A quad may be a quad, but if I kick a record breaking seventy yard field goal to my opponent’s touchdown in American football, I am still going to lose. I frankly don’t care if the winner is Canadian, Russian, American, Japanese, Korean or Chinese, it’s all about sport. And then you have the continuing, ultimate juvenile behavior of Russian President Medvedev, who canceled his trip to the closing ceremony because of the perceived failures of Russian athletes.

That behavior is an ominous foreboding for the next 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While some praised their presentation in the Vancouver closing ceremonies, it appeared out of place in time, extremely cumbersome and propagandizing to me.

Was it just me or was the Russian Anthem as sung by the Moscow State Chamber Choir presented and accentuated in more of an official Soviet format? I still remember (as many Russians do) that this song with different lyrics praised one Josef Stalin, one of the most reviled and murderous dictators in the history of Man. To many this song is stigmatized like the Swastika and to retain even one note is unacceptable.

In stark contrast to the rest of the Olympic ceremonies there was pomposity and formality in this the haunting almost nostalgic long version of the Russian Anthem that seemed more like a well choreographed concert and as one writer put it, “about a month long.” Indeed, the version they sang was over 3½ minutes vs. the shorter ceremonial version of 1½ minutes.

Principal dancers of the Kirov, Bolshoi and Mariinsky Ballets followed with their interpretive performance of Russian history and culture while Olympic gold medal ice dancers Navka and Kostomarov skated by the shore of the Black Sea. While all this was going on Valery Gergiev, the General and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theatre and, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, while on Canadian soil conducted by satellite a full live orchestra playing in Red Square in Moscow. So, what happened to Sochi - that nice little gem of a resort town that sprawls along the shores of the Black Sea, all against the background of the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia? The whole Sochi presentation looked more like bombastic Bolshevik propaganda than a thumbnail of Russian culture.

The Russian “tribute” also included appearance by Russian/Soviet athletes unfortunately inciuding the aforementioned infantile Plushenko though to my delight iconic Red Army/Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak probably the greatest goaltender in the history of the sport. He is the current president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia and was general manager of the Russian 2010 Winter Olympic team. We wish him good luck in what may be a difficult future if Russian President Medvedev has his way.

Aside from the Sochi acceptance one of the more challenging moments of the Closing Ceremony was listening to Vancouver Games CEO John Furlong butcher the French language. Maybe he could have gotten more tutoring or learned to speech synch? Hey, he did try valiantly and any attempt to further politicize this issue is really, really lame. And by the way no comment on the self-effacing Canadian humor that seemed centered on the Canadian crucial skills of “peeing in the snow” and “making love in a canoe.” This writer can claim at least mastering one of those skills at a very early age and it wasn’t on water.

Post Partum: What I will take with me from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are the myriad individual heroic moments that included the emotional and magnificent performance by Quebecer figure skater Joannie Rochette following her Mother’s sudden passing, the brillant play-by-play hockey announcing of Mike “Doc” Emrick, the ultimate Canadian gold medal victory in hockey, USA hockey goaler Ryan Miller on his MVP performance, South Korea’s beautiful Kim Yu-Na and her awe-inspiring record breaking Olympic coronation in women’s figure skating, Bode Miller’s (USA) stupendous recovery on the slopes, Shani Davis’ (USA) gold medal in 1,000 meter speed skating and Shaun White’s (USA) ever spiraling magnificent performances in the Half-Pipe, among many, many others.

I embraced consistent with the ancient Olympic ideals the celebration of participation, sportsmanship, equality and tolerance and the opportunity for the world to come together in peace to celebrate those ideals. It may just catch on someday.

Consistent with April Fools 2009 and a wonderful Canadian sense of humor (we hope and pray) we learned that some folks want to tear down Kanak’s Inunguaq on English Bay in Vancouver because some dog ate a dead crab and got sick. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans was alleged to have engaged an environmental study which showed that the English Bay “Inukshuk” due to natural weathering was leaching chemicals/acids into English Bay turning it into a toxic cesspool. The scientist who performed the study recommended that the “Inukshuk” be dismantled and disposed in a lime pit while the soil around the present site is remediated. The reality is that in our society a dead crab and a sick dog and a scientist in search of a lobotomy could try and save nature from herself. Might of Right suggests an umbrella or a Hudson’s Bay slicker. Can the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument be far behind?

As for the Inukshuk, I would have called it an Inunguaq and that’s what some, but not all, the Olympic organizers are now calling their creation. Need to get their act together or maybe they just have too many Inukshuk t shirts and ball caps still in their inventory (I have the T-shirt). And how about those folks now marketing Inukshuk in a Sack? Create your own Inukshuk from the Canadian Shield, the oldest rocks on the planet? Think I’ll buy one to keep my Pet Rock company. And what ever happened to that noblest of Canadian icons, Sasquatch? Didn’t hear a peep about or from him?

Praise for the exemplary job done by VANOC seems universal but most aptly communicated by Chris Erskine of the LA Times and paraphrased by this writer. Well done, Canada, “Every Canadian pond glowed gold Sunday night -- from Nova Scotia to the Yukon.” Yes, and that includes Quebec.


Ned Buxton

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