- They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice, and: Chiefs, and: The Challenge in Old Crow, and: Nigaanibatowaad: Front Runners
Canada is currently engaged in a five-year Truth and Reconciliation process linked to the federal government’s earlier endorsement of Indian residential schools, which damaged the fabric of Aboriginal community life by removing children from their families until the last school closed in 1996. In this process, both former residential students and workers “speak their truth” about experiences they had in the residential schools, so that healing can occur and reconciliation move forward. Stories by Aboriginal athletes about their experiences in North American sport similarly enable their ”truths” to be heard and then integrated into the ways we know sport so that it can become a more inclusive and nurturing activity for all citizens. These four movies serve that purpose, filling out our accounts of sport from the perspectives of Native athletes and individuals. [End Page 309]
Three of the films are done in documentary style, while the fourth film, Front Runners, fits more within the docudrama genre—it is the remaking of a play into a film, based on true events. Each film makes clear that to understand sport for Aboriginal participants one must recognize the cultural context surrounding the event. That context is, at times, solely Aboriginal, but most often incorporates a relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and cultures. Too often that relationship includes racism and stereotypes, but occasionally, we learn, sport can be the activity that unites a community otherwise divided by racial tensions.
They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice (2001) explores the experiences of professional Aboriginal hockey players, beginning with Fred Sasakamoose in 1955. This film would be particularly relevant to a hockey-savvy audience, since they will know the players but likely not details about their Aboriginal heritage. The players’ stories detail the EuroAmerican cultural context of professional hockey, with its emphasis on travel, accessible alcohol, and drugs, and ongoing racist taunts and stereotypes. One easily seen example of this is the “Chief” nickname, assigned to many of the Aboriginal hockey players. So while hockey culture is unsafe to a degree for all players (as documented elsewhere effectively by Laura Robinson and others), Aboriginal players with close cultural ties to their home communities face additional challenges as well as ongoing racist experiences, helping to explain both why there are few Aboriginal players, and why those who are there may choose to remain invisible. The first of many promising practices emerges in this film, however. Some National Hockey League players of Aboriginal heritage have actively supported those who came after them with player development camps and all-Aboriginal hockey tournaments, and teams have been created so that the players are able to benefit from the support of their peers. And, in Las Pas, Manitoba, integrated hockey brings together an otherwise fractured community.
Chiefs (2002), the second film documentary, uses basketball, as the DVD’s promotional material claims, “to explore what it means to grow up Native American at the turn of 21st century.” This award-winning film (best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival) follows over two seasons a very successful high school (population 160) Shoshone and Northern Arapaho basketball team on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. It chronicles the team’s fortunes along with the ups and downs of the various players. This film resonates particularly well with an American audience—both because it focuses on high school basketball in Wyoming and because it addresses an American Indian reservation context. The strengths emerging through sport for the athletes and community members are many: great pride in the success of their teams and athletes, a cultural context for basketball that includes coaching by previous community players, use of a sweat at the start of the season, images of playing like a family as opposed to “teamwork,” and...