The inukshuk is a traditional Inuit design, a carefully arranged pile of stones that signifies that "someone has been here" or "you are on the right path." Sometimes these designs can be human-shaped, in which case they are called "inunnquags." One particular inukshuk, designed by Vancouver artist Elena Rivera MacGregor, has become a central symbol for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games which run from February 12 - 28 in Vancouver and surrounding cities.
British Columbia is home to 198 First Nation communities, more than any other Canadian province or territory. From the very beginning of Vancouver's Olympic bid, the involvement of the province's First Nations people has been a priority. The "Four Host First Nations," representing the original inhabitants of the Games' ski hills and bobsleigh courses, are the Lil'uat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh tribes.
As the many nations of the world come to Vancouver to watch the world's preeminent athletes compete on snow and ice, they will also receive a cultural education in traditional and contemporary First Nations ways of life. The Aboriginal Pavilion in downtown Vancouver is an ingenious blending of the old and new: a 65 foot multi-media sphere encircled by a traditional West Coast longhouse. Inside are many exhibits pertaining to First Nations arts, business, sports, and cultural life.
First Nations folklore is reflected in the trio of mascots designed for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: a "sea bear" named Miga ( Native legends describe killer whales transforming into bears in order to leave the ocean ), a blue earmuff-wearing sasquatch named Quatchi, and Sumi, a composite creature with black bear legs, thunderbird wings, and an orca whale hat. To those uninitiated in traditional Native tales, Miga, Quatchi, and Sumi can present a baffling appearance, and their Pokemon-like appearance has been criticized by some. It helps that they are cute ( a mascot is, after all, a marketing device ), and that Miga likes snowboarding while Quatchi aspires to be a world class hockey goalie. A fourth "sidekick" is Mukmuk the marmot who, while not officially a mascot, pops out of his marmot hole from time to time looking for something to eat. His name is derived from the Squamish word for food, "muckamuck," a reasonable explanation for his gluttonous personality.
This is Canada's third time hosting the Winter Olympics, and although Canada's First Nations were involved with the 1976 Montreal and the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, 2010 marks the first time that First Nations people have participated in virtually all aspects of the Games.
Vancouver hosting the Winter Games has provided - and, in some cases, necessitated - the opportunity for many Winter Olympics "firsts." Vancouver will be the most populous city to host the Games, the first city to have its opening ceremonies entirely indoors, and, with an average February temperature of 4.8 degrees Celcius/40.6 degrees Fahrenheit, Vancouver will be the warmest city in Winter Olympics history.
Other firsts have to do with one of the Olympics most popular events - ice hockey. Not only will mens and womens hockey be played for the first time on a narrower, NHL-style rink, but the need to use Vancouver's GM Place ( the arena will temporarily be renamed Canada Hockey Place to accommodate an Olympic prohibition on corporate sponsored venues ) will require the rink's usual tenants, the Vancouver Canucks, to embark on the longest road-trip in NHL history, 14 "away" games over a six week period.
The traditional Olympic torch relay, which encompasses literally thousands of years of history, will, as a non-negotiable result of Canada's immense geographical size, be the longest torch relay in Winter Olympics history. The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece on October 22, 2009, and was transported literally over the top of the world, arriving in Victoria, British Columbia by way of the North Pole. The torch itself, a metre-long staff of chrome and winter white, was designed by Bombardier Canada.
2010 also marks the first time that the Paralympic Winter Games have been hosted by Canada. These Games, featuring 1,350 athletes and team officials from 40 different countries competing in such events as wheelchair curling and ice sledge hockey, will be held from March 12 - 21. The Paralympics were the brainchild of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German-born neurologist who became concerned with the many athletes who had been injured in the Second World War. 55 Canadian athletes will be participating in the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games.
From the time-honoured tradition of the inukshuk to the bold new Bombardier torch, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are like the city of Vancouver itself, an intriguing hybrid of vibrant modernity and age-old natural splendour.