It seems that Prince George is a national leader once again! For the first time ever, the First Nation on whose territory the Canada Winter Games are being held has been invited to co-host the Games and has participated fully as a true partner and Host First Nation. The flag of the Lheidli T’enneh people flies proudly alongside all of the flags that celebrate the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George; equally represented.
However, this partnership is more than just the symbolism of flags. The 2015 Canada Winter Games organizers have been immersed in the practical and nitty-gritty details of pulling off a successful winter games event – such as making sure speedskaters had the right safety bumpers and that partners like Northern Health could help ensure top-notch medical response and first aid readiness. Yet at the same time, they also worked hard in this new arena of building a meaningful relationship with the keepers of the traditional territory. In finding the proper and respectful ways to work together with a local First Nation, the 2015 Canada Winter Games Committee has made sure the first ever Host First Nation experience in Prince George has set the bar for all others to follow!
The Dakelh (Carrier) people have lived upon this land for untold centuries and were frequently hosts to gatherings. Thus, hosting an event at the place “where the two rivers flow together” is not a new experience for the local First Nation! Traditional protocols observe and respect the roles of both host and visitor. While these protocols have governed relations on the land for centuries they are still fresh and useful in the modern world. The Lheidli T’enneh have brought these ancient skills to the modern venue of the Canada Winter Games.
The story of a journey – the theme of the winter games and the heart of the opening ceremonies – also honoured the lives and history of the people of Lheidli T’enneh for their tens of centuries of living on this land. The contributions of Dakelh people are seen throughout these games. The work of Dakelh artists are evident everywhere, from the broad sweep of the shapes and colours in the official 2015 Canada Winter Games banners lining the streets to the fine details of the medals and from the wraps surrounding the pillars at the Civic Plaza to the shop windows of downtown businesses. This generous sharing of Carrier culture marked and deepened the experience of the Games for visitors and residents alike.
In the heart of downtown Prince George, often seen as a troublesome area in need of revitalization, the Lheidli T’enneh pavilion has anchored an ongoing warm winter welcome offered by Prince George and the Host First Nation. Sharing food, music and culture is the life blood here in the pavilion. The sound of drums and the performances by talented musicians and singers surrounded by food and history and culture resonates and draws in visitors. So much so that if you want to be in the audience for the 9:30 performance, I was told by a laughing greeter, “you had better be in a seat by 8:30.”
In every case where the Lheidli T’enneh have walked in the Games, the power and significance of the Games has been magnified. The opening ceremonies spoke to all who call this fair land home. The story of the river and the people was laid down, followed by the railroad and highway. The athletes walked these pathways as they entered, and by walking the symbolic land, the stage was set for the ceremonies. All nations were represented in the opening ceremonies but the centre-piecing of the Lheidli T’enneh opened the eyes of viewers to the depth and richness of Dakelh culture. The overall impression – that Prince George has got talent – was obvious. From Tristan Ghostkeeper’s athletic artistry to the little ones who sang and bounced for joy in their performances, to the pride of Chief Frederick, the message was clear: you don’t need to spend a ton of money on big name acts to move people to tears of pride. You just need to look at those amongst whom you live and see the gifts in the place that we call home.
The Games celebrate winter – one of the two seasons in northern B.C. (winter and not winter!) – in a profound way: by bringing young athletes to a national stage where they can ply their sport on snow or ice. In this shared space – a place where all eyes focus on youth and their future – we have found a way to be together honourably, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, as hosts to the Games.
About Theresa Healy
Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.