THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Culture and conflict

PAMELA YOUNG November 9 1987
THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Culture and conflict

PAMELA YOUNG November 9 1987

Culture and conflict

For Calgary’s Olympic Arts Festival—the largest Winter Games cultural celebration ever assembled—event organizers chose a bold and jaunty logo: a capital letter A partially obscured by an abstract yellow splash. Between Jan. 23 and Feb. 28 the festival will entertain Calgary with more than 600 performances and exhibitions. The scheduled participants range from New York’s revered Juilliard' String Quartet to Alberta’s progressive country singer K.D. Lang. But the festival’s major exhibition of native Canadian artifacts, drawn from collections around the globe, has generated bitter publicity. Alberta’s Lubicon Lake Indians are urging the world’s museums to boycott the show to demonstrate support for the band’s unresolved land claims. With the boycott gaining momentum, the paint splash on the festival’s logo has become emblematic of the conflict that has stained the artifact show.

For their part, the arts extravaganza’s organizers claim that the Lubicon boycott has not affected the quality of the native objects that will be on display in the $2.6-million exhibit. And they are quick to note that the show is only one component in the festival’s broad spectrum. Although participants will come from as far away as Sweden and Ghana, as well as from across Canada, the $10-million spectacle will

put Calgary arts organizations at centre stage. The Calgary Opera Association will mount a new production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and several of the city’s theatre troupes and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra are scheduled to perform. Said Michael Tabbitt, director of the arts festival: “Calgary has been living on the Wild West image since the Calgary Stampede began. The Olympic Games and the arts festival will put Calgary on the map.”

Innovative teaming characterizes several items on the festival agenda: Toronto’s Desrosiers Dance Theatre and illusionist Doug Henning will join forces on a specially commissioned work titled Incognito; a program called World Drums will bring together percussionists from three continents under the direction of John Wyre, a member of the Toronto-based Nexus percussion ensemble; and Capella Banduristiv, a Ukrainian folkloric ensemble from Kiev on its first North American tour, will share the stage with Edmonton’s Ukrainian heritage troupe, the Shumka Dancers. Director Tabbitt is also betting that a challenging music-and-drama adaptation of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen will appeal to Calgary audiences. Paris-based director Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen will be performed by his company, Centre international de créations théâtrales. The show, which has enthralled audiences from Tokyo to New York, will be making its Canadian debut.

With less than three months left before the festival’s opening, much remains to be accomplished. The glossy 40-page program claims that a “Rock Spectacular” at the Olympic Saddledome will feature “some of the great names in Canadian and international rock music,” but it fails to list any of them. The scheduled Olympic Film Festival is completely opaque: not a single screening has yet been announced. However, it is known that South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer, England’s Hanif Kureishi and Canada’s Pierre Berton have agreed to attend the Olympic Writers Festival.

The visual arts showcases include Mask—a photographic exhibit of masks ranging from the carved alter egos used in primitive ceremonial rites to the contemporary goalie face guard—and On Track, a multimedia exhibit that explores new technological options for artists. But the show that OCO’88 (the XV Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee) chairman Frank King described in 1986 as the “flagship” of the Olympic Arts Festival is sailing through choppy seas. The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada ’s First Peoples— Inuit and Indian artifacts collected by early explorers, traders and missionaries—is the focal point of the Lubicon band’s boycott.

But the boycott was not the fesitval’s only problem last week. Francis Jackson Dover, who as OCO’s longtime general manager of culture was overseeing the

festival, abruptly resigned after oco transferred responsibilities for the highprofile opening and closing ceremonies to in-house OCO lawyer John Richels. A last-ditch effort by King to convince Jackson Dover to agree to the reduced job failed.

The controversial show is organized by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, sponsored by Shell Canada Ltd.—with the largest grant ever made by a corporation to a visual arts project—and supported by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. It consists of more than 600 artifacts, some of which have been in international collections for centuries.

But many of the objects that the Glenbow organizers had hoped to loan will remain right where they are: Lubicon spokesmen

claim that 26 museums have refused to lend artifacts because of the boycott.

The Lubicons, a small Alberta Cree band living 260 km northeast of Edmonton, say that they have been forced to call the boycott because the federal government has yet to honor a 47-year-old promise to establish a reserve for them. In turn, the Alberta government has never recognized the band’s land claim, and it has regarded the disputed territory as provincial Crown land. In the 1970s the Lubicons’ principal livelihood—trapping—became threatened when oil and gas companies began intensive fiçld work in the area. According to a recent survey conducted by the band, income from trapping fell to less than $400 a year per family in 1985 from more than $5,000 a year in 1980. Economic malaise has been aggravated by disease: the band now has 38 active cases of tuberculosis. Health officials blame the outbreak in part on the community’s financial hardship.

But last week, for the first time in years, there was substantial movement on the land-claim issue: Alberta Attorney General James Horsman issued a statement saying that the province was prepared to honor the Lubicons’ demand for a reserve, in accordance with a federal treaty. The announcement sparked hopes of an early settlement—and the end of the festival boycott. The critical issue will be for Ottawa and the Lubicons to agree on the size of the band: under the treaty, a band is entitled to 128 acres of re-

serve land for each status member. At present the Lubicons claim a population of about 457, while the federal goverment maintains that their status members number closer to 200.

With political will, said band chief Bernard Ominayak, 37, the dispute could be settled in a few days. But others were more cautious. Said James O’Reilly, a Montreal lawyer who acts on behalf of the Lubicons: “For seven years Alberta has been really, really hard-line. I find it hard

to believe in instant conversion.”

In April, 1986, when the band called for a boycott, OCO’88 vice-president Jerry Joynt described the protest as “so ridiculous that it’s difficult to believe.” But the boycott refused to fade away. And now the Lubicons are also planning demonstrations to follow the route of the Olympic torch relay, which will set out from St. John’s, Nfld., on Nov. 17.

To date, the boycott is supported by 22 North American native organizations and 21 religious bodies, including the World Council of Churches. In October, 1986, New York’s Museum of the American Indian dealt the exhibit a major blow by refusing to lend 86 artifacts. Said museum president Roland Force: “When we discovered that the sponsors were the government and Shell Oil, and that they are among those primarily responsible for the plight of the Lubicons, we felt we had to honor the boycott.”

Elsewhere, McGill University anthropology professor Bruce Trigger resigned last week as honorary curator of the Canadian Ethnography collection at Montreal’s McCord Museum of Canadian History over the museum’s decision to lend 30 artifacts to the show. Marcel Caya, director general of the McCord, said that the museum’s board decided that the institution should “stick to its cultural mandate” and not get involved in political issues.

Many other museums, including the

Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., are sending artifacts for the same reason—although, in the Smithsonian’s case, the department of anthropology strongly recommended honoring the boycott. Meanwhile, some museums that originally agreed to lend objects have withdrawn their offers. Tom Swensson, acting director of the Ethnographic Museum in Oslo, wrote to the Glenbow’s Cameron in August to cancel an agreement to lend six artifacts. Wrote Swensson: “When a controversy with such farreaching implications connects to a particular exhibition, it seems to us that the original purpose of the exhibition has been lost.” For the festival’s organizers, the potential breakthrough in the Lubicon boycott offers a chance to put their flagship artifacts exhibit back on an even keel.

PAMELA YOUNG

MARC CLARK

JOHN HOWSE