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  • Stickhandling through the Margins: First Nations Hockey in Canada by Michael A. Robidoux
  • Allan Downey
Robidoux, Michael A. Stickhandling through the Margins: First Nations Hockey in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. Pp. ix+168. References and index. $21.95 pb.

Stickhandling through the Margins is an ethnographic study of First Nations hockey that attempts to examine how the game is played and understood by First Nations. Placing hockey within an Aboriginal cultural context, Michael Robidoux argues that First Nations have embraced the game while altering local traditional sporting practices to create a key site of cultural expression rather than acculturating into the Euro-Canadian construct of the game. More significantly, Robidoux challenges his readers to move beyond the “resistance vs. accommodation” paradigm common to Indigenous research. Drawing on the work of Latin American scholar W.D. Mignolo, Robidoux uses the game of hockey to apply the theory of “coloniality” and to demonstrate “how First Nations expressions of hockey destabilize existing knowledge systems shaped by modernity” (p . 27). Coloniality, as the author explains, is the process in which local knowledge, culture, and power expresses itself “made possible through colonialism and the enduring subjugation of modernity” (p. 12).

The book is divided into five main chapters. Chapters 1 and 4 focus on the theoretical framework the author uses to serve as the foundation for presenting how First Nations have been able to successfully re-inscribe different meanings of practice and understanding relating to the game of hockey. The remaining three chapters use a series of case studies to implement the author’s framework including an examination of the Esketemc First Nation’s re-empowerment through hockey, high performance professional tournaments, and more localized community-based recreational tournaments. Despite the enormity of the high performance tournaments and fierce competitiveness, Robidoux demonstrates that each player’s involvement is “embroiled in the cultural specificities of each tournament context” (p. 97) and reveals a starkly different understanding of hockey competition which values family, community, and cultural ties. This is even more evident in the localized community-based tournaments where teams are community based and serve as a source of pride and celebration for each First Nation.

Despite being proportionately one of the most over-studied populations in Canada, Aboriginal sport studies remain noticeably absent. In this respect, Stickhandling through the Margins provides a welcomed study. Furthermore, researchers have often focused their attention on trying to “measure” Aboriginal authenticity within the larger processes of colonialism, and thus evaluated change, such as the adoption of Western sporting practices in terms of adaptation, accommodation, or rejection. What Robidoux offers is an effective alternative approach to comprehending colonial encounters wherein numerous differences, perspectives, and experiences can exist.

Acknowledging that this work is a sociological and ethnographic study of modern First Nations hockey, this journal’s audience will find the author’s lack of a historical analysis quite evident. Despite discussing general cultural reflections within the Euro-Canadian introduced sport, Robidoux rarely details regional sport histories or the understandings of sport within the Aboriginal communities in question. The biggest concern with the work [End Page 175] is not the author’s broad approach to the subject matter but rather his labeling of these First Nations expressions of hockey as “local.” What is characterized as local manifestations of the sport are, in fact, a result of an overemphasis on Pan-Indianism by the author. If, for instance, the professional tournament in Prince George detailed in Chapter 3 was truly representative of local understandings, it would be critical to include an explanation of the Dakelh (Carrier) understandings of sport and cultural practices and yet this does not occur. A further example of this takes place in the discussion of the community-based tournament in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, in which the author concludes “local practices in the face of large global structures were most evident in the community-based events” (p. 107). However, Robidoux does not mention the Ojibwa or Cree nations, beyond classifying them as “northern First Nations groups,” their understandings of sport, or how they might have influenced the community-based tournament. If the theory of coloniality is correct, each Aboriginal nation would have a different form of...


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