For the first time, four aboriginal leaders, including Justin George, chief of the 400-member Tseil-Waututh, will be accorded status equivalent to head of state at an Olympic Games. It may be a first anywhere for indigenous representatives for such a high-profile international event.
"I don't think aboriginal leaders have ever been recognized in this way," said one 2010 protocol official, who asked not to be identified.
The exalted designation granted chiefs of the Four Host First Nations, on whose traditional territory the 2010 Games will take place, includes access to all events, prime seating among other dignitaries, access to the private Olympic lounges, transportation, and their own assistant to ensure that all protocol goes smoothly.
"They will have the same status as other leaders from around the world, and it's about time," Tewanee Joseph, executive director of the Four Host First Nations, said yesterday. "We want to show that our chiefs are head of their own communities, with their own governance structure. It's very important for them to have discussions with other leaders at the same level, rather than just being talked down to."