Saturday, May 18, 2019

Reconciliation in Hockey (Part 2 of 6)

Part 2-Call to Action 87

87. We call upon all levels of government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, sports halls of fame, and other relevant organizations, to provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.

     When I was younger, my aunt, Sheila Erickson, contributed a series of her poems to a book entitled, Notice; This is an Indian Reserve, in which the title was taken from actual signage that was hung around reserves in Canada. One of the lines of the poem went, “When you tell our stories, don’t rhyme the words too close together, or you won’t leave enough room for us to tell our stories!” It’s a line and statement that has spoken to me throughout my life as the meaning is quite simple; probably everything that you have ever read or viewed about Aboriginal people in Canada has not been told or written by Aboriginal people for the most part. This of course has lead to many misunderstandings, half-truths, while great positive stories about Aboriginal people and their great contributions to Canada and Canadian history have simply been forgotten or passed over. Ask any average Canadian today about the contributions of Aboriginal people and you’re bound to hear stories about blockades, militant actions, or nuisances who are holding back industry and development in Canada. 

     Sadly, you never hear about how snowshoes and birch bark canoes as being pieces of sports technology both invented and introduced to the Canadian lexicon, by First Nations people. Both those inventions were used considerably by the first explorers in Canada, to promote Canada’s first post-contact industry, the fur trade and without them, the history of this country would have been quite different. Although snow shoes were invented by First Nations, their adoption by Europeans lead to the creation of many snowshoes clubs across Canada and were some of the first ever sports clubs created. In terms of popularity, snowshoeing was one of the first sports to have clubs throughout the entire nation. As sport in Canada moved from an
amateur-based model to one that was largely commercialized, many sports left behind their roots and moved towards a secularized model that exists today (even though some sports such as hockey have a fervour that borders on religious fanaticism). As this occurred, many sports left behind their early roots and were adopted for the many new inhabitants that began to call Canada home. One such sport is lacrosse.
My daughter with a billion
snowshoes steps in her DNA.

     Forever the official summer sport of Canada, Lacrosse, was originally a game (Bagataway-The Creators Game) played by the Iroquois Nation as an exercise that was part spiritual exercise, part physical training, part military training, but pure exhilaration to anyone who played it. Lacrosse though, found itself the victim of amateurism and the Lord's Day Act (Downey 2015), which in essence were two attempts to curb sports among the early working class in Canada, but could also be seen as an attempt by church and state as a means to assimilate Indigenous people in Canada. Many eligibility rules were designed to exclude First Nations from participation in sports which ironically included sports that had their origins in First Nations culture. Native players were only added in an act of tokenism to add “Indianess” to the sport, but because First Nations players were considered professional, they were never allowed to fully participate. There has even been talk in some circles that lacrosse was a predecessor to the sport of hockey, but that’s for another discussion. Sadly though, even lacrosse’s origins have largely been forgotten outside of a small segment of the Canadian population, even though it has always been Canada’s national sport.

     Where does this lead us in terms of reconciliation today and in particular, hockey? Well for one, the history and stories of Aboriginal athletes need to be told to all Canadians and in particular the contributions they made to Canadian society. Canadians need to be told about great athletes like Tom Longboat, who at his heyday was simply the best runner in the world and whose training methodology, a method he was criticized greatly for, became the standard type of training methodology that is followed by runners the world over to this day. In the hockey world, we often see shining examples of great players such as Carey Price, Bryan Trottier, and Reg Leach, but we don’t hear about the struggles those players made just to exist in a sport that was taught to their ancestors as a means of assimilation. We don’t hear their stories of how they sought to succeed in a world that was very foreign to them and how they faced racism. It is only now that we are beginning to see the life of Fred Sasakamoose celebrated throughout the hockey world and it is a travesty that the National Hockey League (NHL) does not list Fred Sasakamoose as an official ambassador for diversity in sport. Those stories matter to those players and they should matter to every Canadian who loves hockey. They create understanding and that understanding leads to a curiosity that steers people into learning more about others and how their ways of life may be different. Those who do that, no matter what their position in life is, are the better for it. If we allow ourselves to listen to others and let them really tell their stories, we will not fill in the spaces where the truth should exist.

     What does that mean in practical terms? It means that Aboriginal people should be featured prominently in the annals of Canadian sports history and see why Fred Sasakamoose matters, why there is an award named after Tom Longboat (which should bring up other discussions about reconciliation as pointed out by Janice Forsyth (2015)), why Carey Price uttered the words, “Snachailya” at the 2015 NHL Awards (what does that mean anyway?). Some associations, such as BC Hockey, have been proactive in their approach by not only creating an Indigenous Partnership Working Group that has created an Indigenous Impact and Legacy Award, which allows and highlights incredible stories to be told about Indigenous people, by Indigenous people. This is one such initiative that is fairly easy to do, but the impact it has leads to activities that lead to a better understanding and ultimately reconciliation. Many of these stories have already been told, but perhaps the words have been rhymed too closely together to this point. Let’s allow those stories to be told again, and this time, let’s ensure there is enough space to tell the whole story! All one has to do is listen and have an open mind.
Mr. Hockey with one of my former players,
In a RUSSIAN jersey?  Ask me the story,
And I'd gladly tell you!

BC Hockey Creates Indigenous Participation Work Group

DOWNEY, A. (2015). Playing the Creator’s Came on God’s Day: The Controversy of Sunday Lacrosse Games in Haudenosaunee Communities, 1916-24. Journal of Canadian Studies, 49(3), 111–143.

Forsyth, J. (2015). Make the Indian Understand his Place: Politics and the Establishment of the Tom Longboat Awards at Indian Affairs and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. Sport in History, 35(2), 241.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reconciliation in Hockey (Part 1 of 6)

Reconciliation in hockey

Welcome to my blog.  Maybe you have been here before and maybe you haven’t.  If this is your first time here, welcome to some ramblings by me on hockey, coaching, and life in general.  If you’ve been here before, welcome back and welcome to this journey you may not have been on before.  Usually you see ramblings on coaching, so this topic is a bit of a departure for me, but one that is highly personal.  Reconciliation is a big topic among First Nations in Canada and the reality is it should be a big topic for any Canadian.  The Calls to Action report released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015 call for 94 distinct actions that range from child welfare, education, business, sports, and a variety of other issues.  As I am a self-professed “Sports Nut” (a title given to me by my late father) who loves sport to the point that I spend countless hours reading, watching, researching, playing, coaching, and obsessing over, I feel that I might have something to offer to all you fellow sports nuts (and in particular, hockey nuts) who are looking for a way to do your part for reconciliation.

     Who am I and why does my opinion matter?  Well first of all I am a descendent of a residential school survivor.  My grandma was Sally Erickson (Prince) and she attended Lejac Residential School from the ages of 3-18 after which time she left without a Grade 12 diploma (standard practice), but instead left with a whole cadre of memories, none of which she shared with anyone for reasons that she brought with her to her grave.  Shockingly, in spite of her treatment in school, my grandma became a huge advocate for education for not only her children, but her grandkids as well.  She was a loving, kind person who tried her best to make the best out of life that was broken by others who found my grandma’s only defects were that she was born into the wrong race.  Because my grandma married a non-status “Indian” she lost her status which was somewhat a blessing in disguise as it spared my mom and her siblings, and ultimately me and my siblings, the horrors of attending residential school.  While that was nice, my grandma suffered the fallout that comes with being separated from your family, which affected her relationships with her kids, which in turn got passed onto me.  I live with that legacy, but due to the teachings of many, my parents included, I have been blessed to live a great life filled with great sporting experiences.  I have witnessed firsthand the positive influence sports can have on a person.

     I have some familiarity with the TRC Calls to Action (all 94 of them), but my strength lies in the ones that deal with sports.  Although I do not have a career in sports, my passion in life has always been in sports.  I have played, coached, watched, planned, organized, taught, and obsessed over sports my entire life.  My late Uncle Archie was the first to introduce me to sports and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Even my education (BA in Phys Ed, Masters in Sports Science) has followed the pathway of sports.  My big sport is hockey, in which I have coached various kids and adults throughout the years.  I am certified as an Advanced Level 1 (now High Performance 1) coach and have also instructed many other coaches throughout the years.  I currently sit on a Hockey BC committee on creating reconciliation through hockey.  I also instruct Kinesiology 121-Sports & Leisure at the local college to hopefully teach the next round of teachers, coaches, physiotherapists, trainers, sports nuts, how sports can make a positive change in people's lives.  Now that I have introduced myself, let’s look at reconciliation in hockey.
Let's play guess the writer.

Sports are a reflection of society and hopefully in some cases, society reflects many of the positive values that can be found in sports.  Values such as fair play, team work, goal setting, and hard work are often held up by many in sports as positive side effects from sport.  Sometimes though, sports make a statement about society that causes us to reflect and re-evaluate the way we view ourselves, our neighbourhoods, and our society in general.  Moments like Katherine Switzer completing the Boston Marathon made society take a hard look at how we view gender and the many inequities that exist and still exist between genders.  When Muhammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam and gave up the best years of his career, he brought the issues of race, freedom of religious choice, and non-violent protest to the foreground of a country that was struggling with those issues in a dark corner no one wanted to explore for the fear of confronting an ugly reality.  Finally, one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in sport has to be the moment in the 1995 World Cup of Rugby when the great Nelson Mandela, a man who suffered through over 20 years in an oppressive regime who chose to lock him up because his ideals were the truth, pulled on a Springbok jersey in clear view of an entire nation that was still struggling with the idea of correcting a historical wrong through means that didn’t involve civil violence and war.  The scorebook shows that South Africa won the match at Ellis Park 12-15 in extra time, but the scorebook only tells a small part of the overall story that played out that day.  History has shown that it was a seminal moment in the move towards reconciliation for South Africa.  It was one of many parts of reconciliation that has taken place since 1994, but a small sporting gesture proved to have far reaching ripples into the ocean of reconciliation.

How is hockey, a sport that was part of a larger effort of assimilation by the Canadian government (Te Hiwi, Forsyth, 2017), going to be part of the reconciliation efforts called for by the Call to Action (Truth and Reconciliation Canada, 2015), and in particular sections 87-91 that call for reconciliation in sport?  How do we move beyond the hopefully outdated practice of referring to Aboriginal hockey players as, “Chief”, or having mascots and logos that are offensive to indigenous communities, into an era where indigenous people fall under Hockey Canada’s mission statement of, “To Lead, Develop, and Promote positive hockey experiences”?  Good question, and one I hope to help you along the path to your answer.  I must warn you though as I may challenge your thinking or take you to place of discomfort, but like a good coach, I promise you the end result will be worth it!

     The format here will be pretty simple.  I will start with the Action from the TRC Calls to Action report, then give you my opinion on how this could work in hockey.  I value your opinions on these matters, so please leave a comment, but of course, please be respectful of my and of other posters.  Reconciliation will take much work and it is something all of us should work towards.  The more dialogue we can start on this, the better.  If you are a sports nut like me, the great part is you can be part of reconciliation in Canada!

Forsyth, J., & Heine, M. (2017). ‘The only good thing that happened at school’: colonising narratives of sport in the Indian School Bulletin. British Journal of Canadian Studies, 30(2), 205–225.

Te Hiwi, B., & Forsyth, J. (2017). “A Rink at this School is Almost as Essential as a Classroom”: Hockey and Discipline at Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, 1945-1951. Canadian Journal of History, 52(1), 80–108.

Truth and Reconciliation Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.