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  • Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada: Historical Foundations and Contemporary Issues ed. by Janice Forsyth and Audrey R. Giles
  • Allan Downey
Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada: Historical Foundations and Contemporary Issues. Janice Forsyth and Audrey R. Giles, eds. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013. Pp. 254, $32.95

Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada is an interdisciplinary anthology that brings together fourteen leading scholars to offer an ethnographic study of Aboriginal people’s involvement in sport in Canada. Despite the wealth of ethnographic studies focusing on Aboriginal peoples in Canada, Aboriginal sport studies remain noticeably absent from the literature. According to editors Janice Forsyth and Audrey R. Giles, the reason for this academic disinterest may stem from the tendency of Canadian scholars to position Aboriginal participation in sport as a hobby rather than as a field of legitimate academic study. Accordingly, the central objective of the collection is to challenge this belief and demonstrate the value of positioning sport studies alongside the larger literature on Aboriginal peoples, while revealing “the extent to which sport plays an integral role in understandings of Aboriginal history, culture, identity, politics, and health” (6).

Divided into two parts, the essays are thematically linked by their focus on answering the question of how unequal power relations have influenced the ability of Aboriginal peoples in Canada to implement their own visions of sport. In part 1 of the collection, the essays focus on historical perspectives and include case studies on sports and games in residential schools, Indigenous peoples and Canadian-hosted Olympic Games, and Aboriginal women in sport. Part 2 consists of six essays that examine contemporary issues and focus on such things as Aboriginal sport policy, elite Aboriginal athletes, and women’s participation in Dene Games. What emerges is a sensational variety of case studies that create a cohesive whole and complement each other. For example, M. Ann Hall’s essay, “Toward a History of Aboriginal Women in Canadian Sport,” provides an excellent historical framework concerning the participation of Aboriginal women in sport and demonstrates how their experiences cannot simply be plugged into the traditional studies of Canadian women’s sport history, because their experiences have not necessarily been the same. Later in the collection, Audrey R. Giles offers a contemporary case study of the Dene Games in the Northwest Territories and outlines the ways in which South Slavery Dene understandings of tradition have shaped their views on the participation of women in the games. Together, the two essays form a persuasive argument, demonstrating that the participation of Aboriginal women in sport, as with Aboriginal peoples [End Page 117] more generally, often does not mirror that of non-Aboriginal Canadians and must be understood within Aboriginal world views.

The anthology fulfils its objective by underscoring the centrality of sport in Aboriginal epistemologies along with identifying the historic and contemporary tensions fostered between the dominant society and Aboriginal visions of sport. The contemporary case studies offer thought-provoking theoretical frameworks that historians could apply. For example, Victoria Paraschak makes the argument that Canadian sport structures in relation to Aboriginal peoples provide a racialized, a racializing, and, at times, a racist sporting space. Using the analogy of a double helix in which one strand represents the Aboriginal sport system and the second represents the mainstream sport system, the rungs between them representing the points of connection, Paraschak argues that the Canadian sport system has strengthened Aboriginal identities while at other times problematized them. In addition, Lynn Lavalée and Lucie Lévesque in their essay, “Two-Eyed Seeing,” draw on social ecological theory and the medicine wheel to develop a theoretical model describing the integration of both Western and Aboriginal perspectives to form an integrated understanding of health promotion through physical activity, sport, and recreation. Despite the application of both theoretical frameworks to contemporary case studies, they offer historians relevant and alternative theoretical approaches that can be employed when examining Aboriginal sport history.

Acknowledging that this work is not concerned exclusively with historical analysis of Aboriginal sport, this journal’s audience will still find the inclusion of historical interpretations limited. Furthermore, within two of the three historical analyses provided there is a noticeable absence of any significant...


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