September 07, 2009

Protests planned against torch relay

Olympic torch stokes warm pride and fiery protest among aboriginals

By Rod MickleburghThe veteran chief is among hundreds of aboriginal participants scheduled to brandish the famous flame during its 106-day journey across the country, as 2010 Games organizers strive for an historic, unprecedented role for indigenous people in an Olympic torch relay.

Despite their ambitious goals, however, and the anticipated pride of so many aboriginals running in the relay, not all natives are partaking of the same sweetgrass.

The Penticton Indian Band has been dropped from the original list of torch communities, relay concerns have been raised on the Six Nations reserve in Southern Ontario, and some young native militants see the Olympic trek only as a chance to protest.

"We don't support the Olympics," said Penticton Chief Johnathan Kruger, citing Canada's vote against the UN declaration of indigenous rights, and inequitable distribution of Olympic funding.
And:[N]atives remain an integral part of the strident Olympic Resistance Network, which vows to disrupt both the Games and the torch relay.

Aboriginal leaders who support the Olympics are collaborators, according to native Gord Hill of the ORN. "We are determined to oppose the Olympic circus. We are definitely planning to proceed with our actions."

Last week's RBC hiring of Phil Fontaine, former head of the Assembly of First Nations, to help maximize aboriginal participation in the torch relay was a clear sign that past and threatened protests are working, said Mr. Hill.

This kind of talk disheartens the large majority of pro-Olympic native leaders who have welcomed the opportunities provided to aboriginals by the Winter Games.
And:"You may get media attention and grab headlines, but it evokes anger and promotes ill-will, instead of building public compassion for native issues."

He suggested milder actions such as information booths on the West Coast Express commuter train to bring attention to aboriginal matters.

Besides, he added, the Olympics are establishing native legacies. "We want our young people to believe they are as qualified as anyone else. ... It's a real opportunity to raise our profile."

The Olympic torch will pass through 118 aboriginal communities. A dozen native youths will accompany it along its entire route, and native elders, known as "honorary fire keepers" will provide a special blessing at each aboriginal stop.
Comment:  My attitude toward this kind of protest is "whatever works." Ideally you should know the short- and long-term consequences of any action before you act. How well did you raise awareness and educate people? Did your protest generate more good or bad will? How effective was it compared to alternatives such as writing a book or speaking on TV?

This thinking applies to both sides in this situation. Will the Native torch bearers raise the world's awareness of their cause? Or will they simply placate their followers with empty gestures? Will the protesters who trip the Native torch bearers raise the world's awareness of their cause? Or will they simply placate their followers with empty gestures?

Hard to say, but if I were a political activist, I'd study these issues. I'd read studies of past protests to see what worked. I wouldn't assume that my way was the best way.

For more on the subject, see Native Leaders, Youth Target Olympics and Rebranding Natives at 2010 Olympics.

No comments: