Vancouver 2010 names six Aboriginal flame attendants, torchbearers and
honorary elder fire keepers for Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay

VANCOUVER, Oct. 19 /CNW/ - Meagan Big Snake, a talented Siksika hockey player from Alberta, will use her athletic prowess and community spirit in the job of a lifetime this winter - running with the Olympic Flame as its guide and protector to ensure it keeps burning bright on its cross-Canada journey, starting in just 11 days in Victoria, BC.

The 20-year-old flame attendant is among 600 First Nations, Inuit and Métis men and women selected to play significant roles, such as torchbearers and honorary elder fire keepers, in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay Aboriginal program. The 106-day relay is presented by Coca-Cola and RBC and supported by the Government of Canada.

The program was designed by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) in partnership with the Four Host First Nations and other Aboriginal organizations, including: the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council/Métis Nation BC, National Association of Friendship Centres, and Aboriginal Sport Circle. Nominations for the Aboriginal torch relay positions opened in March and closed over the summer.

The other Aboriginal participants named today are: Susie Pearce of Iqaluit, NU (community torchbearer), Stephanie Albiston of Vancouver, BC (language torchbearer), Waneek Horn-Miller of Montreal, QC (sports hero torchbearer), Marc Hunter of Lac Simon, QC (urban community hero torchbearer), and Audrey Rivers of Squamish First Nation, BC (honorary elder fire keeper).

"To be nominated by your own communities and peers is a great honour. These Aboriginal men and women symbolize the best in all of us," said Andrea Shaw, VANOC's vice president of sponsorship sales and marketing. "As flame attendants, torchbearers and fire keepers they'll help carry the Olympic Flame's special message of hope, peace and friendship as it travels from coast to coast to coast as we prepare to welcome the world to Canada's Games in 2010."

Tewanee Joseph, executive director and chief executive officer of the Four Host First Nations, comprising the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, added: "The response to our Aboriginal torchbearer program has been tremendous. It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When you look at the calibre of the people who have applied - from an Olympian who has instilled pride in Aboriginal peoples on the world stage to a father who is an ambassador for his culture in everyday life - it makes a positive statement. We're proud to celebrate the strengths and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada."

The torch relay positions are part of a larger ongoing program to achieve unprecedented Aboriginal participation in the planning and hosting of the 2010 Winter Games. The Olympic Flame, carried in a torch designed and manufactured by Bombardier, will also visit over 100 Aboriginal communities in Canada during the course of the longest domestic torch relay in Olympic history.

Flame Attendants

As one of 11 youth flame attendants, Meagan Big Snake will help tend to the flame 24 hours a day on her leg of the 45,000-kilometre journey starting December 27. She will also help guide hundreds of the 12,000 Vancouver 2010 torchbearers as they carry the Olympic Flame and pass it from torch to torch - a challenging task complicated by some of the unusual modes of transportation the relay will use, such as seaplane, dogsled, Haida canoe, zipline, and tall ship.

The group of 19- to 25-year-old flame attendants will conduct this work alongside the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and maintain the lanterns and backup flames as part of the 250-member travelling relay team. Big Snake will finish her time with the relay team on February 12, 2010 when the Olympic Flame will enter BC Place and light the Olympic Cauldron, signalling the official start of the Games.

Big Snake, who is currently in her third year at Oswego State University of New York, traded in her figure skates for hockey after watching the Canadian women's team take gold at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. In university on a four-year hockey scholarship, she is the co-captain of their National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women's hockey team and remains an active member of her community as a hockey coach.

Community Torchbearers

Susie Pearce, known as Nunavut's most decorated athlete at the Arctic Winter Games, is one of 119 community torchbearers chosen to carry the Olympic Flame. All were nominated by neighbours, family and friends who felt they best represented their community's achievements and dreams.

In addition to working as a nurse, the 30-year-old is also known in her community for teaching traditional Inuit games and is a role model to many, especially young Inuit women and girls. On November 9, she will carry the torch in Iqaluit and participate in a flame welcome and blessing ceremony with a community elder.

Language torchbearers

Although the Olympic Flame is visiting over 1,030 Canadian communities during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, it is impossible for it to reach every corner of the second largest country in the world. One factor that connects people separated over great distances is a common language. Seventy-one positions have been set aside for torchbearers representing Aboriginal linguistic groups: 43 First Nations, seven Inuit and 21 Métis, including British Columbia's Stephanie Albiston.

The 26-year-old multi-sport dynamo recently graduated from the University of British Columbia's Law School and is the elected youth chairperson for the Métis Nation British Columbia office. As a teenager, she broke provincial swimming records and competed in volleyball, basketball and cross-country running. Albiston will carry the Olympic Flame in Surrey, BC, on February 8, 2010.

Hero torchbearers

Ten spots each were set aside for torchbearers representing Aboriginal heroes in sport, as well as urban Aboriginal community heroes who have acted as mentors and inspirational figures to others.

Sports hero torchbearer Waneek Horn-Miller, 33, competed at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games as co-captain of the Canadian women's water polo team - the year the women's event debuted at the Olympic Games - placing fifth. The competition landed the Mohawk athlete, who started swimming competitively at age six, and her team on the cover of Time magazine.

A year earlier, the Carleton University political science graduate won gold at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg in water polo and took bronze two years later at the 2001 women's world water polo championships in Japan. On December 3, Horn-Miller will carry the Olympic Flame in Wendake, QC.

Marc Hunter, a community hero torchbearer, is the father of nine children (two boys and seven girls) and works as a community organizer at the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre. He is known for his powwow dancing and vocal talents - he frequently sings the national anthems for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Val-d'Or Foreurs. Hunter will carry the flame in Laval, QC, on December 10.

Honorary Elder Fire Keepers

Fire keepers traditionally play a dual role in Aboriginal ceremonies: they are tasked with keeping fires burning during ceremonies as well as teaching the spiritual meanings of the fire. Whenever the Olympic Flame arrives in an Aboriginal community during the Olympic Torch Relay, an elder chosen by his or her people will act as an honorary fire keeper and perform a short welcoming and blessing ceremony for the flame. The role is an honour and acknowledgement of the person's commitment to the teachings of their nation.

There will be more than 119 fire keepers for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, including elder Audrey Rivers of the Squamish Nation. Rivers, who is the daughter of respected First Nations community leader Andy Paul, will give a traditional blessing for the Olympic Flame, on behalf of the Squamish people, at Xwemelch'stn on February 10, 2010.

On Thursday, the Olympic Flame will be lit in Olympia, Greece on the start of its journey towards the 2010 Winter Games. The flame will officially arrive on Canadian soil to start the relay in Victoria, BC, on October 30. Visit www.vancouver2010.com/torchrelay for more information.

About VANOC

VANOC is responsible for the planning, organizing, financing and staging of the XXI Olympic Winter Games and the X Paralympic Winter Games in 2010. The 2010 Olympic Winter Games will be staged in Vancouver and Whistler from February 12 to 28, 2010. Vancouver and Whistler will host the Paralympic Winter Games from March 12 to 21, 2010. Visit www.vancouver2010.com.

About the Four Host First Nations Society

The Four Host First Nations Society is a not-for-profit organization that has been established to coordinate the participation in the 2010 Winter Games by the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Visit www.fourhostfirstnations.com.

About Coca-Cola and the Olympic Movement

The Coca-Cola Company has been associated with the Olympic Games since 1928 and is the longest continuous corporate supporter of the Olympic Movement. Through the Olympic Games, Coca-Cola encourages people to create their own path of "positivity" in everyday life by believing that anything is possible. The Company's sponsorship supports National Olympic Committees in more than 200 countries to help athletes train and compete. The Coca-Cola Company is the exclusive non-alcoholic beverage provider to the Olympic Games through 2020. For more information about Coca-Cola Canada, please visit our website at www.cocacola.ca or our parent company's website at www.thecoca-colacompany.com.

About RBC

As part of our commitment to helping create a better Canada, RBC sponsors amateur sport, from grassroots programs in local communities to national sport associations that support the development of amateur athletes who compete at home and abroad. Canada's longest-standing supporter of the Canadian Olympic Team since 1947, RBC continues its sponsorship through the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and is proud to bring the Olympic Spirit to communities across Canada as presenting partner of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay. RBC is also a premier sponsor of Hockey Canada, the Canadian Snowboard Team, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team, Athletics Canada and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Visit www.rbc.com/sponsorship.

About the Government of Canada

The Government of Canada is proud to make 2010 a celebration for all Canadians. Through strategic investments in programming and funding, the spirit and excitement will be felt far and wide and leave lasting legacies for future generations. Through the Olympic Torch Relay, the Government of Canada is supporting citizen and community participation, as well as the inclusion of Aboriginal, ethnocultural and official-language communities. For more information on the Government of Canada's contribution to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, visit www.Canada2010.gc.ca.

SOURCE VANCOUVER ORGANIZING COMMITTEE FOR THE 2010 OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES

For further information: For further information: Media Contacts: Jenée Elborne, VANOC Communications, (604) 403-1787, jenee_elborne@vancouver2010.com; Alex Rose, Four Host First Nations Communications, Tel: (604) 346-7720, E-mail: agrose@shaw.ca

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VANCOUVER ORGANIZING COMMITTEE FOR THE 2010 OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES

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