Activists Divert the Olympic Torch from the Heart of the Grand River Territory, Six Nations
by Niki Thorne
“We are Haudenosaunee people, and we stand strong for our sovereignty and our rights, and we will never give that up, not even for a day, not even for a celebration. We will never give that up.” (Ojistori:yo, also known as Melissa Elliot)
On December 21, 2009, Six Nations activists peacefully diverted the olympic torch from entering the heart of the Grand River Territory. Spokespeople for the action stressed that allowing the torch into Haudenosaunnee Territory at all was a compromise in good faith with Canada and the people of the Six Nations community who did want to celebrate the Olympic torch. However, in solidarity with First Nations communities out west, who have made an international call for support regarding the destruction caused by preparations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, under no circumstances was the torch to pass through Ohsweken village.
The torch was peacefully prevented from entering the heart of the Grand River Territory, and no arrests were made for blocking the planned torch route, despite over $900 billion spent on Olympics security. The celebrations organized by Band Council were relocated from the community centre in Ohsweken to Hwy 54 & Chiefswood Road, where all who wished to participate in the Olympic torch ceremony were able to do so.
Allies were encouraged to participate in the action to divert the torch, organized by the Hoskanigetah (Men’s Fire), Ahgongweh (Women’s Fire), Onkwehonwe youth and other concerned people to prevent the torch from entering the heart of Grand River Territory. Allies were asked to be present to show bonds of peace, respect and friendship, but to stay back if there were attempts to push through with the torch–stopping the torch would ultimately be up to activists of Six Nations.
Activists stand in solidarity
The physical presence of 30-40 individuals at the Riverbend on Hwy 54 ensured the organizers decision to reroute the Olympic torch, and there was no confrontation. Six Nations people blocking the torch specifically noted that they were not ‘protesting’ but protecting the land and the people, and making a stand for the coming faces (future generations). Activists were not protesting athletics, or international competition, but are against the Olympics for breaching the Great Law of Peace, which gives Haudensaunee people the responsibility to protect the earth for future generations. Some specific reasons include:
-Damage to the land, including destruction of habitat of the endangered spotted owl, and destruction to mountains for Olympic infrastructure such as stadiums, stands, and wider highways;
-Continuing colonialism and damage to First Nations communities and people, including the continuing appropriation of unceded land, and the death of Harriet Nahanee, who, when imprisoned for Olympics related activism became sick and passed away after spending 11 days in a men’s prison;
-Detrimental effects for the people of Vancouver. Due to gentrification, many lower income families and individuals have been rendered homeless as affordable hotels are turned into accommodations for the Olympic tourists and higher priced condominiums. The United Nations Human Rights Council delegation, reporting on their 2007 visit to Vancouver stated concern regarding information “received on the impact that the preparation for the Olympics could have on low-income housing residents, and particularly on low-income single resident hotel units situated in the downtown Eastside neighbourhood.” Am Johal of the Communities Coalition reported to the Dominion that there has been a doubling of homelessness since 2002. An estimated 1,150 low income housing unites have been lost in the past six years. Additionally homeless people are criminalized and can legally be removed from the downtown core by police force, which hosts a variety of key services such as needle exchanges and free condoms. Poor people and women, often aboriginal, are put at further risk through forcible relocation to places that do not have these services.
Ojistari:yo (Melissa Elliot), cited Six Nations sovereignty as an additional reason to block the torch: “We are not Canadian. We are not a conquered people.” She stated, “We stand firm…the torch and what it represents: the destruction of the mother earth out in BC, and the missing aboriginal women, the homelessness, all of these things that the torch represents…we are not allowing their flame, that foreign flame through the heart of our territory.”
TOP 7 REASONS WHY HAUDENOSAUNEE NATIONS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST 2010 OLYPICS & TORCH RELAY: (document prepared by concerned Haudenosaunee people)
1. The 2010 Olympics & Torch Relay does not reflect the values of the Great Peace
Essential values within the Great Peace are being ignored with the planning of this Relay. Division of our people is being influenced by a foreign nation, consensus decision-making is failing to be utilized and temporary benefits are being prioritized over long term effects on the future generations from our participation. The Olympics is promoted as representing “peace, friendship, inspiration, passion for the love of sports, and unity amongst all people around the world.” In reality it is a multi-billion dollar industry representing colonialism, fascism, power, corporate interests, industrial profits, homelessness, inequality, racism, violence against women and the raping of mother earth. The Torch Relay was initiated by Hitler during the 1936 Berlin ‘Nazis’ Olympics where it was run through ‘conquered’ territory to showcase and empower white supremacy. The Torch continues to represent this legacy.
2. Band Council has no jurisdiction to approve the Torch Relay to come through Haudenosaunee Territory
In every Haudenosaune Territory, approval for the passage of the torch relay has been granted under the authority of band council. Under the 8 Points of Jurisdiction, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy alone has jurisdiction over both Land & International Relations. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was only asked to participate after the Torch was already approved and their involvement is limited. At Six Nations community meeting the vast majority of community members present were against this Torch coming through our territory and these voices were ignored. Throughout the planning of this Torch Relay, the International Olympics Committee has been treating every Haudenosaunee Territory the same as any other Canadian Municipality. When the Torch comes through our territories it is not coming though another Canadian community – it is coming through another nation’s land. If we are a sovereign peoples we must act sovereign and demand treatment as such.
3. Canada is breaking the peace with their extreme Olympic security tactics
These Olympics are being used as another opportunity to target our people as “terrorists”. The security for the 2010 Olympics & Torch Relay is the largest military operation within home borders in the history of Canada. The Canadian military, Vancouver Police, RCMP, CSIS, NORAD & US military are being joined together for this. They are utilizing Emergency Response Teams, riot cops, helicopters, armoured vehicles, new crowd-control technology, over 35,000 police & security. The security tactics Canada is testing with these Olympics are serious and are setting the precedence to be used on our Onkwehonwe people whom are already criminalized in our assertion of inherent rights. OPP, RCMP & other security agencies will be allowed to travel free through our territory with the Torch Relay.
4. Canada has been breaking our treaties, denying our rights, and refused to move forward on our peoples many issues. It is a widely know fact that Canada has a horrible record with our peoples: They have openly rejected our treaties such as the Two Row Wampum and after 4 years at a negotiating table (Canada, Ontario & Six Nations) – our people have been made many promises which have all been broken. With continued development on unceeded lands, criminalization of land defenders, border issues in Akwesasne, the HST tax and so much more – Canada expects us to put aside all ‘politics’, to forget all of the things they have & are still doing to our people so we can be used for preformances in their events.
5. The international image Canada is trying to create with this “Red” Olympics is a lie
There has been a premium set for the inclusion of ‘First Nations’ within these games. However, Canada is putting a “Red Face” to the 2010 Olympics & Torch Relay for very particular reasons. Canada has had a negative image in the international realm for the treatment of Onkwehonwe (Indigenous) peoples with the Residential School exposure, refusal to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ongoing land claims, missing & murdered aboriginal women, HST tax etc. In light of this negative image, Canada is using these 2010 Olympics & Torch Relay as a way of undoing the negative image their relationship with Onkwehonwe peoples.
6. It is our responsibility to stand up for and protect our Mother – the Earth
Massive destruction to the land has taken place in preparation for the 2010 olympics in so called “British Columbia”. Ski resort development of sacred mountains still in use by native peoples, 2 million salmon being killed in local rivers, blasting of mountain sides for the development of the Sea-to-Sky highway are all examples of the environmental impact. We have a responsibility to stand by our principles of not supporting the destruction of our mother.
7. It is our responsibility to assist and unite with those other onkwehonwe peoples/nations that call for our help.
In 2007, an international call for help and solidarity with west coast and BC interior nations to expose/resist the 2010 Olympics & Torch Relay was sent out from an international indigenous gathering that took place in Sonoma Mexico. The same Onkwehonwe peoples in 2006 held a Six Nations Solidarity Rally in Vancouver with over 500 in attendance to support our people in our time of need. In the spirit of unity and in accordance with the Great Peace, we have the responsibility to assist our brothers and sisters out west in their time of need. Now is the time to unite, to show canada and the world our strength and to proclaim that we, the Onkwehonwe are one peoples and what affects one affects us all.
WE MUST TAKE A STAND AGAINST THIS TORCH RELAY’S TRAVEL THROUGH OUR TERRITORIES BECAUSE WE ARE HAUDENOSAUNEE ONKWEHONWE PEOPLES THAT REMEMBER OUR WAYS AND RESPONSIBILIES – WE CAN NEVER GIVE THIS UP – NOT EVEN FOR A DAY.