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IOC member's racism

*********Open Letter:**********************

November 10, 2008

Academic Community Calls for Resignation of Dick Pound, Chancellor of McGill University

Recently, members of Indigenous communities in Canada have expressed outrage at racist comments made by Richard Pound, currently serving as Chancellor of McGill University, Canadian representative on the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and member of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic Games. During an August 2008 interview with La Presse, Pound responded to criticism regarding this summer's Olympic presence in China by drawing the following comparison: "We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European descent, while in China, we're talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization."

Pound's comments are not only offensive and inaccurate, they are indicative of a deeper, unchecked current of racism and colonialism within Olympic organizing and within the administration of institutions like McGill. Much as McGill administrators may attempt to sidestep the issue, we contend that allowing Pound to continue to represent the University is tantamount to endorsing his views.

Pound's words are offensive on many levels. First of all, they grossly mischaracterize the history of Native peoples in Canada. Pound's statement reinvigorates the long-standing colonialist trope of Native "savagery", and it implies that Canada's "civilization" originated in the presence of European settlers and, by extension, in the genocide of Native peoples. Ironically, Pound mobilizes this argument in a convoluted attempt to legitimize Olympic collaboration with a government famed for its own practices of violence and repression against Native (Tibetan) peoples.

Pound's recent attempts to excuse himself for his comments have fallen short. In follow-up interviews, he has insisted that his critics misinterpreted the French phrase "pays de sauvages." He then claims not to have known that the phrase "pays de sauvages" was no longer acceptable in French.

This supposed lack of awareness about changing linguistic practices regarding Indigenous peoples is anything but an excuse. Instead, it points to an overall ignorance and racism towards Indigenous communities in Canada, something which is unacceptable in an individual occupying a position of authority in two powerful organizations - VANOC and McGill University - which are both fundamentally indebted to Native people for the use of still unceded land.

Pound has failed to meet his critics head-on. Instead, he has protested that his critics' accusations "trivialize [his work] in the Olympic movement to fight against discrimination based on race, politics or gender." Yet the broader context of the Olympics suggests otherwise. The Olympics industry is violently destructive toward Indigenous communities. Large development projects are already underway on unceded Native territory in British Columbia, and resistance efforts by local Indigenous communities have been obscured by the media and met with violent police repression. Native elder Harriet Nahanee died as a direct result of her arrest and incarceration because she took a stand for her land and community.

Meanwhile, Natives are already overrepresented in Vancouver's population of homeless people and sex workers, all of whom face increasing economic instability and police violence as the City attempts to "clean up" its image for international investors.

Dick Pound's responses are markedly inadequate in the face of his egregious - but by no means anomalous - characterization of the Indigenous peoples of what is now Canada. McGill University needs to send a message and set a precedent, loud and clear: We will not stand by and condone such disrespect towards Native peoples of this land. As academics and student groups from McGill University and Canada's broader academic community, we therefore join our voices to the growing chorus calling for the resignation of Dick Pound as Chancellor of McGill University.

from mostlywater


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