As Beijing Olympics Begin, Indigenous Canadians Make a Case for 2030 Bid

As the 2022 Winter Olympic Games kick off in Beijing, a collection of Canadian First Nations are organizing a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games, a move that still needs the approval of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In December 2021, the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations began the process of exploring a potential bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games. The First Nations' efforts have the support of both the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

If successful, it would be the first Olympic bid to be led entirely by Indigenous nations. Before the bid can be made official, a feasibility study and an initial assessment of plans must be thoroughly conducted, along with the official approval of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has yet to comment. After these steps are completed, the bid could be formally submitted in the fall.

However, this wouldn't be the first time that Canadian First Nations would be involved in hosting the Olympic Games. Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow discussed with Newsweek how the bid came to be, as well as the history of First Nation involvement in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

"A few years back, in 2010 when the Olympics came to Vancouver and Whistler, the First Nations weren't involved at the very beginning," Sparrow explained, "and a group and the government put together a group that would put their name in for submitting a bid. It went to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and one of the first things that came out was if the First Nations are in support of hosting that year."

Several years after this experience, Sparrow says a group decided to attempt to send in another bid for a return to Vancouver and Whistler. This time, they would prioritize First Nations first and foremost.

"We talked with the two mayors, both Whistler and Vancouver," Sparrow said. "We started some preliminary discussions with them, and then both mayors said if Vancouver and Whistler were going to put a bid in, this time it's got to start with the First Nations. That's how it transpired and broke out, and we said 'if we're going to put it in for 2030, why would we not be the ones to host it and welcome people to our territory like we've done in the past?'"

Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony
Four Canadian First Nations are preparing a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, which would mark the first time an Olympic Games was hosted by Indigenous nations. Pictured, indigenous performers from the Four Host First Nations perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) have both agreed to sponsor the bid, as well as the mayors of the cities of Vancouver and Whistler. The COC made this agreement public earlier this week in a statement, attaching comments from each Nation participating in the potential effort to land the Olympic Games, including the Musqueam nation.

"An Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bid that genuinely embraces the TRC's Calls to Action, DRIPA [Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act] and UNDRIP [United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act] will be ground breaking," said Lil'Wat Political Chief Dean Nelson in the statement. "There is potential for these Games to be a social innovation driver for First Nations—we will be considering the many ways this potential can be realized."

"We welcome the support of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee, as they join our Nations in the feasibility assessment of hosting the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games," added Squamish Councillor and spokesperson Wilson Williams. "This is another important step in our process and we hope to build a meaningful relationship with the COC and CPC. Their valuable knowledge and expertise will help the Nations decide if we want to move forward with an official bid for the Games."

"We look forward to the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee joining us in our journey with the other host Nations and municipalities as we explore bringing the 2030 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games back to Greater Vancouver and Whistler," said Tsleil-Waututh Chief Jen Thomas. "The work ahead of us will continue to be Nation-led, as we continue with this historic initiative of an Indigenous-led Olympic and Paralympic bid for the Vancouver 2030 Games."

Sparrow says that they still have more work to do regarding the bid and the studies needed before it can become official. However, given the community reception to the 2010 Olympics and the fact that all of the necessary buildings for the event are new and in good condition, he is hopeful that this plan will eventually bring the 2030 Olympics to Vancouver and Whistler once more.

"We're so proud that now after all the fights our past leaders had that we can walk side by side with the federal government and the municipalities instead of us in the back row," said Sparrow, "so moving forward, it's exciting and I'm hoping we'll be successful and we'll consult our community from there."

2010 Olympic Emblem
An emblem reflecting the cultures and spirit of Canada's four host nations is seen on a medallion presented by the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games at the Closing Ceremony of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 26, 2006 at the Olympic Stadium in Turin, Italy. The emblem reflects the unique cultures and spirit of the four host first nations, the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. The rim of the medallion represents the creator and ancestors watching over a human face symbolizing each of the four First Nations. In the centre, four feathers point to the cardinal directions, north, south, east and west, extending an invitation to the peoples of the world. Photo by Stephen Munday/Getty Images