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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 9, 2002 - Issue 56


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The 2002 Winter Olympics: A Tribal Member's View

by Kenny Frost, Southern Ute Drum, Ignacio, Co.
Olympic Power Suite by John Nieto..see below

Olympic Power Suite by John Nieto - BearUpon arriving in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics; the signs of security were evident everywhere as I entered the downtown area. Streets were closed off and traffic came to a slow crawl. Barricades were up. Final preparation were slowly coming together, with bugs being worked out in all aspects ranging from security to the bussing of performers, athletes, spectators and volunteers for the games.

My taxi turned into an area for immediate inspection by the military guards stationed as one of the many checkpoints. Measures included checking underneath the vehicle for bombs or other devices, and a check of the hood and trunk of the vehicle. Other vehicles nearby were undergoing the same procedure.

Security concerns continued throughout the week, with checks of personal vehicle, credentials and identification. The 2002 Games had become the most protected games in Olympics history.

Once through that physical check of our vehicle, there were more check points by military personnel. That included showing our paperwork that we had passed the initial check. But we weren't done yet. Our route took us through six more check points where our papers were cleared to get to the Wyndham Hotel.

Security officers of the Utah National Guard were armed with automatic weapons as a deterrent against whatever could happen and to support whatever was necessary to insure the safety of those who had come to the Salt Lake City to watch or participate in the Games. Black Hawk helicopters and jet fighters could be heard and seen as they flew above the locale.

Olympic Power Suite by John Nieto - FoxSecurity was at the utmost because of the events of September 11th, which involved using airplanes as weapon of mass destruction and which brought down the World Trade Center towers in New York City. This had crossed the minds of many of the performers, but all agreed this needed to be done. The show must go on. The Native people believed this was a great opportunity to show the rest of the world Native people are not gone. They are here, alive and well. We needed to show the rest of the world our story.

Once inside the hotel, it was time to look at the view of Salt Lake City. From our window, we could see Award Plaza, where the best athletes in various events would be given gold, silver, and bronze medals. The Plaza was also used for some musical performances.

Credentials were given out to those who came for events that would soon follow. Schedules to be followed by Native dancers, drum groups, tribal representatives and spiritual leaders were finalized. The sounds of flute players hitting the right notes were evidence that things would soon be in place. After waiting and practicing for the much-anticipated Opening Ceremonies for the 2002 Olympics Games, the time would soon come. It was expected to be cold, with wind chills hovering in the teens.

Leaving from the front of the hotel, we had to cross through barricades placed on both sides of the roadway. From our locations, we could access the Navajo Pavilion, some stores at the mall, the Award Plaza, and other entertainment venues.

Olympic Power Suite by John Nieto - HareThe Navajo Tribe spent approximately one million dollars on their 11,000 square-foot pavilion, just across from the Delta Center. Inside, was a story of the stars and constellations which is important in the Navajo culture and a panoramic view of the East and West mitten of Navajo National Park. There was also a tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers who were instrumental in helping the United States win the war again Japan. In addition, there were jewelry craftsmen, basket makers, a model of the history of the Navajo people through the use of lights.

During the practices that continued during the week prior to the actual Opening Ceremony on Friday, many of the dancers said they were excited to be included in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share their Native culture before an estimated world-wide television audience of three billion people ... and a live audience of 55,000 at Rice-Eccles Olympics Stadium.

As the time neared on Friday, final checks were made by the dancers, singers and flutists. Many fought off the cold chill that would soon be a nuisance. But once the athletes began their march in the stadium, the chill gave way to the excitement.

The program began once the athletes were seated Native performances began with the flute player, Eldean Ketchum (Ute), Hovia Edwards (Shoshone-Bannock), and Nino Reyes (Ute). The flutes could be heard echoing with the music of Robby Robertson.

The Native performance had begun. The rhythmic sound from the drums began as the various drum groups rode into the center of attention. The dancers of all ages kept in step with the drum beat of Mother Earth. The Native people were now posed to tell the world who they were and that they were alive and well.

Hovia Edwards, the youngest flute player and one of only two Native woman in the U.S. to play the flute made history as being the only representative of Canyon Records in Phoenix, Arizona. She also represented the Goshute Tribe of Utah. What a great honor to bestow on a young Native woman and what a great role model for our young Native American children. (Hovia is only a recent graduate of Black Foot High School. She will be featured in a PBS documentary scheduled to be shown later this year or next.)

Leaders from the five tribes, the Great Ute, Paiute, Goshute, Navajo and Shoshone Nations, were given the honor of welcoming the Olympic athletes. The Ute Nation from Uiintah and Ouray Tribe of Fort Duchesne, Utah was the lead tribe, joined by the Ute Mountain Utes from Towaoc, Colorado. Clifford Duncan looked radiant ... majestic ... as he rode into the stadium on horseback wearing his eagle headdress war bonnet. Speaking in his Native Ute language, Duncan welcomed the participants to the Games. This was followed by the Blessing from one of the Shoshone Elders. They offered an olive branch as a symbol of peace.

In another first, Naomi Lang became the first Native American to complete in the Winter Olympics. An ice dancer, Naomi is a member of the Karuk Tribe of Northern California. She also took part in the Opening Ceremonies. She also was one of the four athletes to accept gifts from the Native leaders. When Naomi accepted her gift from one of the tribes, she started crying.

As this was closing, the flute players began once again. Robby Robertson and Ulali also provided music. The representation by the Native people brought them international attention and respect from the 55,000 in attendance, as well as the international television audience.

As the performance ended, the tall-tale sign of success was seen on the faces of those who perform a job well done. The cold of the weather could not bring down the jubilant Natives, as they knew they had performed well for the world. For one this cold day in February, they made the world aware of the Native people still present in the world today.

About Olympic Power Suite by John Nieto
Since the 1890's, the Olympics has been creating commemorative artwork in honor of the games, the athletes that participate and in celebration of the host city. It is the tradition of the Olympic organizing committee to select an artist whose work embodies both the region of the host country, and also the spirit of the Olympic Games. For the 2002 Salt Lake Winter games John Nieto was selected overwhelmingly as the nominee by the organizing committee. Mr. Nieto was then commissioned to create three pieces that would become the "Olympic Power" suite. The "Olympic Power" suite is comprised of three pieces, each an animal indigenous to the Southwest. Through his use of animals Nieto is able to convey a message of individual monumentality, as well as illustrate the culture of the American West. The three animals depicted include, a bear, a coyote, and a hare, each representing one of the three Greek words that has been the historic motto of the Olympics: citius, altius and fortius, or swifter, higher and stronger. The hare stands for speed, the coyote for height and the bear for strength.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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