February 13, 2010

Go, Canada!

During the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games last night, I was impressed by the amount of time and the degree of prominence given to the First Nations: the indigenous people of Canada. The leaders of the four nations whose territories encompass the Olympic venues were seated with the national and international leaders.

Tribal representatives offered greetings in their native languages, as did the Utes at the Salt Lake Games. But then native people from across Canada performed their traditional dances in traditional attire throughout the parade of nations. I was struck by the similarity between the dances and costumes of the Prairie tribes, as they were called, to those of the Great Plains in the U.S.

But I was most sharply struck by the notion that no games in the U.S. has ever given so much time and prominence to native peoples. For all our similarities, there are great differences between Americans and Canadians, and this is one of them. Here, we frequently forget our native peoples. And when we remember, it often seems an afterthought. ("Hey, since we're in Utah, we should invite the Osmonds. Oh yeah, and maybe the Utes, too.")

But another segment of the show was very -- how shall I put it -- North American. When the tartan-and-leather-clad tap dancers and fiddlers took the stage, in what I can only describe as a Punk Rock Riverdance, it demonstrated the individuality and inventiveness that characterizes both of our pioneer nations. The fiddling and clogging, which the producers encountered on Canada's east coast, is similar to that seen in Appalachia. I'd say it was the same, but I've never seen tattooed Appalachian dancers in black studded leather and chains. (Which isn't to say they don't exist. Only that I've never seen them.)

At the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a thousand men, all of similar height and build and ethnicity, dressed the same way, doing the same thing, expressed the conformity of the Chinese Communist state. Contrast that with the Canadian people, a variety of colors and sizes and ethnicities, each dressed differently, dancing together but not in unison.

We Americans may admire the Chinese precision and unity, but individuality and innovation -- those are things we can relate to. Our normally unassuming Northern cousins have set themselves the audacious goal to own the podium at their games. I wish them well.

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