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2030 Olympics: What is in it for Squamish?

‘It is an opportunity to announce to the world that we are not invisible,’ says Squamish Nation councillor

What would another Olympics hosted to the north and south of us mean for Squamish? That is the question many are pondering.

On Dec. 10, First Nations — Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Lil̓wat7úl (Lil’wat), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) — announced they have jointly entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Vancouver and Whistler to begin assessing the feasibility of hosting an Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2030.

 It would be the first Indigenous-led bid in the history of the Games.

“It is an opportunity to announce to the world that we are not invisible, we are still here and will always be here,” said Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) spokesperson Coun. Sxwíxwtn (Wilson Williams) in the announcement of the bid.

Williams was directly involved in the 2010 Winter Olympics as a member of the Four Host First Nations.

Asked what stood out for him of his personal memories of the 2010 Games, Williams said it was his experience as a musician playing at the 2010 Games that he recalls as “electrifying.”

Williams plays guitar with Bitterly Divine, which is a rock and blues band made up mostly of Nation members.

“We played a couple of big stages around by the Olympic Village,” he said, adding the band played about four Olympic gigs. “It was quite exciting.”

He says the feedback he has gotten from members since this recent announcement is that for there to be support for a 2030 bid, the bottom line is key.

Members need to know what it is all going to cost and who is paying for what, Williams said.

“The concern, it’s around the budget, you know, and where’s it coming from?... We want to be as transparent as possible. And I feel that [with] the necessary parties and support resources we’ll get will come together, but as long as we keep doing it, right, and keeping the right foot forward, and working in a good way. And I think, we’ve learned a lot from the 2010 Games, especially on the Four Host First Nation side; I think this time around, it’s just going to even be better, because of who is leading the way.”

The next step is a collaboration agreement and then a feasibility study, working with the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees.

“I think we’ve already had good relations, especially amongst the four nations, but we’re strengthening relations with the City of Vancouver and the Resort Municipality of Whistler,” he said.

“The line in the sand is basically respecting reconciliation, and that means working together in all phases and all aspects of, let’s just say the bid process here. And we started off on a great foot — especially working with the Canadian Olympic Committee,” he said.

If all goes according to plan, an official bid would be made in the summer of 2022.

Williams noted that Skwxwú7mesh people have a very oral culture and it is the stories that come out of the Games that are some of its most significant legacies.

“A lot of people really feel empowered by it. There’s a good legacy behind it and a healthy one,” he said.

The  2030 Games will be important for Nation youth, including his own kids, if they come to pass.

“When I told them last week, the event I was going to —the announcement — I saw their eyes lit up as I was driving them to school, and they started asking me a bunch of questions,” he said.

“My children play sports. And my middle daughter plays hockey, and she’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s an Olympic sport... I want to play.’ And so you know, that kind of excitement, that’s the kind of feedback I got from my children. And just with that, my heart tells me, our community’s going to feel that way as long as we get the story across in a good way.”

In terms of what Squamish Valley members would gain, he says everyone needs to feel involved in the Games and legacies have to be left behind for everyone.

Part of the conversation

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the District of Squamish said the municipality looks forward to learning more about the plans for the Games.

“Squamish is an important asset between the two host municipalities for transportation linkages and accommodation support, and much planning work would need to be done to explore these aspects, among others. The 2010 Olympics brought both negative and positive outcomes for the District of Squamish and so we look forward to being a part of the conversation with regard to this historic initiative,” said Rachel Boguski on behalf of the District.

Upgrades at the right time

For the Sea to Sky Nordics, the possibility of a 2030 Winter Olympics would bring valuable upgrades to their existing infrastructure. The Nordics formed out of volunteers from the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympic games and have since run communities of competitive and recreational ski-jumping, cross country skiing and biathlon.

“The facilities are in great shape already, but after 12 years now they need a little bit of work. Following whether or not the bid is successful will be exciting because the facilities will be in better shape for recreation and for people to potentially become competitive Nordic athletes,” said chair of the Sea to Sky Nordics Rick Smith.

For Legacy Park in Squamish, Smith hopes more funds would improve the off-season experience. The Olympic bid could create spending on paved trails for athletes to roller-ski on and to build a 40-metre jump, says Smith.

“What a boon [the upgrades] would be to training ski jumpers year-round instead of waiting until December 15th to start jumping on snow,” Smith said.

At Whistler Olympic Park, where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held, the ski jumps are slowly getting old. With more funds, the Nordics could refresh the ski jumps for athletes who use the services every year, says Smith.

“The Olympics are about more than just facilities,” said Smith. “More than anything the Olympics are about people. The most exciting thing is how excited kids have already been about it.”

Highlighting local topics

Patricia Heintzman was the former mayor of Squamish and municipal councillor during the 2010 Olympics. For her, the conversation of a potential Olympics resurfaced a lot of important topics in the region.

“I would absolutely support this initiative for the sole reason that the Nations are making this bid. This is a powerful and important statement,” said Heintzman.

“[This bid] pushes to a new level recognition of traditional territories, reconciliation and collaboration. All of these really important messages that can only be pushed by something as big as the Olympics,” said Heintzman.

Heintzman has high hopes for the Nations involved, Squamish, Whistler and Vancouver to create the most sustainable games yet.

“We have all of the infrastructures, we have the systems in place, we know where we can improve. I think From the Olympic movement’s point of view, it makes more sense not to build new infrastructure every time we have an Olympics, but to maximize the value of the infrastructure they already have.”

One of the big lessons Heintzman learned from her experience with the 2010 Olympics was the mass transit piece.

“Now we have less intercity transportation than we did back then because  Greyhound has left... I would hope the legacy of this [potential Olympics] would jump leap years in terms of augmentation of public transportation,” said Heintzman.

Like many others, Heintzman had a very positive time experiencing the cultural and sporting events at the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, she notes that not everything the Olympics brings is good.

“Things like the Olympics can have a negative ripple effect, things like affordable housing and homelessness. So I would hope now that our infrastructure is already built that a lot of our attention goes into those ripple effect social issues that can arise because of the Olympics,” said Heintzman.

Stronger sense of community

For Kelly Woods, the co-owner/co-founder of Cordelia’s Locket, another Olympic Winter Games is a massive opportunity for business growth and development.

“The last Winter Olympics of course brought us the highway which in no uncertain terms opened us up to the Lower Mainland and essentially the world,” says Woods.

“Not only does [the Olympics] focus on Whistler as a place for athletes to participate but for Squamish itself. The entire Sea to Sky area is a winter playground.”

Woods’ nephew Griffin Mason is an Olympic hopeful with Team Quebec. She notes that the excitement in her home around the Olympics is exhilarating.

“We are ongoing a massive opioid crisis in this country… and if we can give young kids something to be proud of and strive towards, it should be something to focus on,” said Woods.

In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, Woods worked in hospitality at the time. She enjoyed the influx of people, activities and the pride of being Canadian.

“[The Olympics] are a very complex topic and it’s one that we really need to consider, especially with everything going on in China right now. At the end of the day, when you see your athletes participating… and you see that Canadian flag, I mean there are very few things that fill you with that sense of pride,” said Woods.

“2010 to 2030, 20 years later…I think we have a really great opportunity to show the world that we are a leader in our battle against climate change and that [Canada] values our Indigenous people,” says Woods.

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