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.

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