Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

A look at Aboriginal Sport Policy in Canada

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This semester in Kin 6300, we’ve had some great discussions about many different topics within sport and recreation. However, like most university classes, all of these topics have been in respect to mainstream society. Last week, I had the assignment of choosing a topic to share with our class. I took the opportunity to put the spotlight on Aboriginal Sport in Canada. Although Aboriginals are within Canadian borders, and participate within mainstream programs/organizations, sport can sometimes be different experience.

To begin this discussion, I looked specifically at Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal People’s Participation in Sport. I also looked at the book: Aboriginal Peoples & Sport in Canada (Forsyth & Giles, 2012), more specifically, the chapter by Victoria Paraschak titled – Aboriginal Peoples & Sport in Canada.

To be clear about the content in this piece, the word Aboriginal refers to individuals residing within Canada, who are First Nation, Metis or Inuit. It is helpful to note that Aboriginals are the only group in Canada to have their ethno-cultural identity defined by legislation, which is likely to be the main reason for having their own sport policy under Sport Canada; however, that is an entirely different discussion on history. In addition to that, Aboriginal youth is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country, which should reflect how important the development of Canadian Aboriginal Sport actually is.

Sport Canada has responsibility in overseeing the development of Aboriginal Sport in Canada. Their partner in that venture is the Aboriginal Sport Circle, or ASC. The ASC was formed in 2005. It is an Aboriginal multi-sport organization that serves as a national voice for Aboriginal sport development in Canada, composed of regional affiliates (provincially and territorially). Thus, it is considered that there are two sport systems in Canada – the mainstream Canadian sport system and the Aboriginal sport system.

Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal People’s Participation in Sport was developed in 2005. In summary, the document uses 7 pages to reiterate Aboriginal people’s historical connection with physical activity and games; identifies participative barriers for Aboriginal people to overcome, provides a generalized snapshot of socio-economic situations within communities, and repeatedly emphasizes the importance of cooperation and collaboration in. It then adds one paragraph on implementation which states “Sport Canada will develop and implement an Action Plan for Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport”.  This was nine years ago, there has yet to be any Action Plan developed for this Policy. However, subsequent Sport Canada policies that have been developed, have been closely followed with the development and implementation of their respective Action Plan. Feel free to pause for reflection on this.

I personally thought this Sport Canada document came across as vague, uncommitted and lacked any actual substance and/or direction. It resembled more of an information pamphlet rather than a Federal policy.

Victoria Paraschak also took a critical look at this policy, noting it’s strengths and weaknesses. She also suggested next steps to continue and build on the intentions of the document. Her suggestions included ongoing research and monitoring of the policy, including the development/implementation of the action plan; and the development of a communications strategy to raise awareness of the document within the Aboriginal communities.

In her chapter, Paraschak followed with three main concepts on Aboriginal sport. These concepts have great depth to them and can be fully understood by reading her identified chapter. In last week’s class, I presented these concepts to my graduate Foundations of Sport and Recreation class.

Paraschak’s first concept was of racialized sporting spaces, which is mostly associated with defining participation based on Aboriginal heritage. This is practiced in regular events, such as, the North American Indigenous Games and the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.

Paraschak’s second concept was of racializing sport spaces, which is similar to the previous but adds to it the “doing” of an operational race hierarchy facilitates the (re)creation of racialized identities. For example the racialized sporting space of the North American Indigenous Games, aligns with mainstream sporting events, but has elements that mark it as “Aboriginal”. These elements are identified by Paraschak as the Sacred Run, rather than a Torch Relay; or the Aboriginal philosophy incorporated into the design of the games logo. There types of differentiating features help to foster Aboriginal pride in participants or spectators of the games.

Paraschak’s final concept is of racist sporting space, which she identifies as when participants or spectators experience treatment as racialized ‘other’ in sport. Examples provided, included: overt racists acts; the Canadian Sport System as a form of institutionalized racism; and the very debatable topic of Indian Mascots.

Paraschak’s views help to critically look at the Canadian Sport System and Aboriginal Sport System. I then  ask…..

How do we, as sport managers, help Aboriginal youth understand and succeed in the Canadian Sport System? – which unintentionally privileges those of European descent, as the system has been shaped and developed by that group.

Also, how can we as sport managers minimize racism in sport?

I feel as though these questions and many more can begin to be addressed with the development and implementation of the Aboriginal Sport Policy Action Plan, which would of course need to be inclusive of Aboriginal participation. Until this process begins, Aboriginal youth are susceptible to fall into the gaps and cracks of the Canadian Sport System, which works directly against those goals identified in Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport.

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