Informative and inspirational study of Aborigines and sport in Canada

Helge Chr. Pedersen
UiT – Norges arktiske universitet

Janice Forsyth & Audrey R. Giles (red) Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada: Historical Foundations and Contemporary Issues 254 sidor, inb. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-7748-2420-0
Janice Forsyth & Audrey R. Giles (red)
Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada: Historical Foundations and Contemporary Issues
254 sidor, inb.
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press 2013
ISBN 978-0-7748-2420-0

How have Aboriginal people shaped Canadian sport and how has Canadian sport contributed to shaping aboriginal people? What historical, political, cultural and economic contexts need to be taken into account to understand Aboriginal sport in Canada? These are questions addressed in Janice Forsyth and Audrey R. Giles’ book.

Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada is the first academic book on Aboriginal sport in Canada to be published. This makes it an important book for several reasons. First of all it raises the awareness of the importance of aboriginal sport as a field of research both in its own right and as a window through which one can view a variety of different historical, cultural and social issues such as health, gender and race relations, cultural practices, colonialism and post-colonialism, and ethno-politics and self-determination. Secondly it is an essential resource for all researchers, students and members of the general public that are interested in the field of sport, ethnicity and power.

The book’s content is divided into two parts which both raises important questions such as: Has sport and the understanding of how it should be organized the same meaning between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and among Aboriginal peoples? How do power relations influence Aboriginal peoples’ ability to participate in sport and to implement their own visions for sport?

The first part consists of historical perspectives on Aboriginal peoples in sport and recreation. Janice Forsyth examines how sport became a part of Aboriginal education in the residential school system and what sport meant to Aboriginal pupils and ultimately to Aboriginal society. M. Ann Hall demonstrates what role women have played in the history of Aboriginal sport, while Christine M. O’Bonsawin shows how Aboriginal culture has been used in Canadian-hosted Olympic Games to promote and celebrate civic and national identity.

Part two consists of contemporary issues and analyses a variety of different aspects of Aboriginal sporting life. Victoria Paraschak discusses Aboriginal peoples and the construction of Canadian sports policy. Aboriginal games is analyzed from two different angles: Audry R. Giles examines the Dene Games and the participation of Women and Girls, while Michael Heine studies performance indicators at the Arctic Winter Games. Joannie Halas follows up on Forsyth’s historical study of physical education by analyzing the challenges and opportunities of physical education for Aboriginal youth today. Lynn Lavallée and Lucie Lévesque searches a related topic by examining the promotion of sport and physical activity in Indigenous communities.

The theoretical perspectives in this book are diverse. Tension, power relations and conflict are underlying subjects in many of the chapters, subjects that are connected to Canada’s colonial past and post-colonial present: Tension and conflict between and amongst different Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups and how they play out on the many sporting fields around Canada; power relations shaping Aboriginal sport practices and disciplining Aboriginal peoples and their values and ideas in sport; conflicts and power relations between the Canadian government (on different levels) and Aboriginal peoples in sport.

If I am to criticize the book in any way, it must be for this rather one-sided understanding of sport as primarily a tool to discipline and assimilate Aboriginal peoples and the way it sees sport as mainly an arena for tension, conflict and asymmetric power relations between and amongst Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. To balance these perspectives, more emphasis might have been given to sport’s own value in Aboriginal communities and to the role of sport as a meeting place and as an arena for integration across different types of borders – be it ethnic, social or cultural borders.

All in all, this book is well worth its price for several reasons. It offers a welcoming insight into the structure and organization of Canadian sport in general and aboriginal sport in particular. Furthermore it discusses and problematizes terms such as “aboriginal”, “sport” and “aboriginal sport”. To an outsider like this reviewer, who does not know Canadian sport extensively, nor comprehensibly know the academic discourses on aboriginal history and culture in Canada, these discussions make the book very interesting and fruitful. In the Scandinavian context the questions explored in this book are equally important and relevant, but neglected. Scandinavia has its own indigenous population, the Sámi, whose history has many parallels to the history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The Sámi has a long and proud sporting history in Norway, Finland and Sweden just as this book shows Aboriginal peoples to have in Canada. Research on contemporary and historical issues in Scandinavian sport can gain inspiration and valuable theoretical and empirical insights from the findings in this book, insights that should inspire more research on Indigenous sport in Scandinavia.

Copyright © Helge Chr. Pedersen 2015

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