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TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2016
The 2010 Winter Olympics are now less than a year away the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), national and international sponsors seem to be pulling out all the stops in endless marketing campaigns. The Olympics signal a time when our entire country will be under close attention from international media, and the need to present our country in the best light is an important one to politicians and sponsors. Yet, there seems to be an unanswered and pressing question at hand: What is the Canadian identity they are trying to present?

In 1983, author and Cornell University professor, Benedict Anderson, published Imagined Communities, which has since sold over a quarter million copies. In this influential book, the author attempts to describe the history and processes by which national communities have been created. Anderson describes a nation as a “socially constructed community of real people who perceive themselves as part of a group.” Most importantly, he identifies print-media and its relationship to capitalism as contributing to this creation of national identity. The 2010 games are capitalizing on that idea by branding both the Olympics and the country with symbols that have been the center of much controversy.

Thus far, an Inukshuk (for the Olympic logo) and three imaginary animals based on First Nations’ myths (for Olympic mascots) have been chosen by VANOC to represent Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The mascots Miga, Quatchi, and Sumi, a sea bear, sasquatch, and thunderbird with bear legs, have borne the most criticism from the public.

The mascots, and their cute, Pokémon-like look makes them extremely marketable items for children, but the extent to they are identifiable as symbols of Canada has been rejected. Unfortunately, making the Olympics an easily marketable event for corporate profit and potential consumers has become the focus in planning for this event.

But moreover, the response by First Nations groups to the symbols being used is the most embarrassing. The CBC reported that the Inukshuk logo was so badly received by First Nations leaders that many were prepared to walk out of the unveiling ceremony. They noted that Nunavut leaders were not consulted before the design was chosen. Not only does the use of First Nations symbols to attempt to market Canada and the Onlympics not make up for generations of political alienation and continuous fight for the rights over their land, it is insulting to those groups who are not in support of the games. The fact that the events will be held on unceded Salish, St’at’imc, and Squamish lands fueled Kanahus Pekley and Dustin Johnson to initiate “No Olympics on Stolen Grounds,” a campaign intended address the environmental and social damage that the Olympics could inflict on this land. First Nations culture could be a unifying factor for communities and it provides a link to a history we should be attempting to preserve and cherish. But a certain respect must be established before that will be a reality, and using a colorful, graphically designed version of First Nations art for an international athletic event does nothing preserve its integrity, especially sans permission.

Our colonial past, multiculturalism, language divisions and vastly distinct geography make Canada almost impossible to define through a few symbols or words. By attempting to define such impossibly vast and abstract characteristics of Canada, advertisers are attempting to do just that: define the impossible.

While the symbols chosen to represent Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics will no doubt turn a profit for a few companies, their future permanence as symbols of Canadian identity is unlikely. If our national identity, our ‘imagined community’ as Benedict Anderson would say, is truly imagined, then attempting create a cultural representation is more of a misappropriation.

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