Franklin James Cook

Pre-Olympics Death of Native Artist Draws Sharp Contrast

In Grief on February 28, 2010 at 9:11 pm
Peters views Edmonds photo

Tekekekuithia Peters looks at photos in her home of Bruce Edmonds and other members of the Mount Currie community. (Andrew Medichini, The Associated Press)

In “A Suicide Reveals Despair in the Olympic Shadow,” Associated Press National Writer Joji Sakurai tells the story of native artist Bruce Edmonds, who was “commissioned to carve the pale-gold cedar doors for the athletes’ lodge at Olympic Park in Whistler.” But Edmonds “would never get to see the visitors from around the world marveling at his handiwork, or witness how they interpreted a symbol of his Lil’wat heritage,” for Edmonds died by suicide “on a cloudy afternoon three days before the opening ceremony.”

As the world prepares to say goodbye to Vancouver, Edmonds’ story thrusts into harsh relief the struggles of this community, just a half-hour away from glamorous Whistler, the resort where Olympic Alpine and other events were based. Unemployment here runs at more than 80 percent. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant and open. The darkened windows of flimsy shacks and trailers show electricity to be a precious commodity. And many here bitterly complain that the Olympics — which highlighted western Canada’s aboriginal culture in their opening ceremony — are being held on land stolen from them. Edmonds’ life and death illustrate how difficult it is for even one of the most promising members of the community to break free from the problems that have long troubled it.

The story covers Edmonds’ death through candid interviews with everyday people in the Mount Currie community who knew him well, drawing a picture of a troubled person whose passing is presented as a symbol of the troubling realities of colonization’s aftermath.

Senior provincial officials acknowledge deep problems in aboriginal communities, laying blame largely on a history of taking away native land and state-sponsored disenfranchisement. But some say progress was being made, with Olympic showcasing of aboriginal traditions playing a strong role in the healing process.

“We see wide and unacceptable gaps,” said George Abbott, British Columbia’s minister for aboriginal relations. He cited high levels of illiteracy, catastrophic rates of diabetes, chronic unemployment, drug abuse and criminality.

The squalor of the Mount Currie community is overwhelming: Backyards are turned into graveyards for mattresses spouting rusty springs and burnt-out trailers. Homes are built of flimsy plywood that still bear the manufacturer’s mark.

Still, even with progress, those gaps are unlikely to be erased soon. When the Olympics pack up and leave, it will be for the Lil’wat community almost as if they had never taken place.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/SharpContrast .]

Related SPNAC post: “Youth Suicide among Native Americans Linked to Colonialism,” Feb. 9, 2009, at http://tinyurl.com/LinkColonialism

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