Indian nations to grace 2002 Olympic Games 

It may seem a bit ironic, given that the Olympic Games are being held in Salt Lake City, the stronghold of Mormon country, but the next winter Olympics will likely feature the largest Native American presence ever at a non-Indian event.

Cord Edrington, head of development for Native American Foundation 2002, the Salt Lake City-based group organizing the Indian presence, reports that more than 600 members of various tribes will be participating in the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2002 Games. Among the highlights will be sunrise ceremonies on the steps of the state capitol every day for the week leading up to the Games. A spiritual leader from each of seven major tribes will perform the blessings. All told, the project is supported by 292 Indian tribes.

Edrington notes that for the first time, a Native American has been appointed to the Olympic Organizing Committee, and leaders from recognized tribes will be accorded “honored guest” status, a designation that gives them increased access to the behind-the-scenes privileges.

Native Americans will also handle the welcoming duties at the Games; one tribe will greet each visiting nation with ceremonies specific to its traditions, though a common thread will be an official presentation of beaded smoking pipes as a symbol of friendship. According to Edrington, certain countries will be eagerly awaiting that transaction. In Germany, for example, a writer of children’s books has helped create an entire generation of Indian-loving people through a series of tales about “Winnetou, the Apache Knight and Old Shatterhand” (his German sidekick renowned for his jaw-splintering blows).

“It’s kind of funny,” says Edrington, “but many German people see the Old West in terms of the Indians being the good guys and the cowboys being the evil guys.”

Here’s the kicker. The Foundation is overseeing construction of the world’s largest tipi, a fact that Edrington will not let the folks at Guiness overlook. Using lodgepole pines more than 60 feet tall, the tipi will exceed the current record holder (a privately-owned structure in Billings) by five feet. Inside the tipi will be a Jumbotron—the giant video screens that adorn arena scoreboards nationwide—on which people will be able to watch the events. Inside the mother of all tipis, a full stage will also be present featuring everything from traditional music and dancers to contemporary Indian rock ‘n’ roll bands.

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