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  • Indigenous Resurgence, Regeneration, and Decolonization through Sport History
  • Murray G. Phillips, Russell Field, Christine O'Bonsawin, and Janice Forsyth


When it comes to the sport and physical activity practices of Indigenous peoples, it would be easy to conclude that sport history has something of a blind spot. If we canvass recent significant scholarly books about the discipline of sport history that were commissioned by major international publishers and edited by leading scholars, Indigenous history is scantily represented. The Routledge Companion to Sports History published in 2010 has thirty-eight chapters extending over 650 pages but no chapter dedicated to Indigenous sport history. In fact, the index reveals only a total of seventeen pages attributed to Aborigines (three), First Nations (one), Indigenous (nine), and Maori (four).1 In Vamplew and Dyreson's Sports History (2016), a compilation of previously published scholarship themed in four volumes with sixty-seven chapters, three chapters are dedicated to Indigenous sports, games, and pastimes.2 The most recent tome, Edelman and Wilson's The Oxford Companion of Sports History has thirty-four chapters extending over 560 pages. Similar to the Routledge Companion to Sports History, there are no chapters dedicated to Indigenous sport history and only ten pages attributed to Indigenous sports (eight) and marngrook (two) in the index.3

Beyond the quantity of Indigenous content in such volumes, it is important to consider its character. We might ask, for example, if considerations of Indigenous pastimes are relegated to European modernist notions of "prehistory" or whether more contemporary assertions of Indigenous sporting culture such as events (for example, the North American [End Page 143] Indigenous Games) and organizations (like the Aboriginal Sport Circle in Canada) are given adequate coverage. The Routledge Companion seemingly does not include Indigenous contributors and is organized according to non-Indigenous conceptions of "nation" and region. Finally, such encyclopedic collections tend to privilege Western historical epistemologies and do not always recognize Indigenous ways of knowing concerning how history is told, recounted, transmitted, and understood.

So how do we interpret this situation? It might be easy to jump to the conclusion that sport historians do not value traditional Indigenous games and sports, Indigenous understandings of sport and its place in their lives, or the challenges Indigenous peoples have experienced trying to assert their vision for sport; or do not fully acknowledge the Indigenous origins of lacrosse, Australian football, and surfing, for example; or are not interested in understanding sport as both a form of institutionalized, collective, and individual racism and as an activity appropriated by Indigenous peoples as a form of resistance, cultural continuity, and identity formation. Yet there are scholars—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—making insightful and rich contributions to Indigenous sport history. Since the beginning of the new millennium, for example, there is a considerable body of scholarship comprising a wide range of journal articles and several landmark books.4 The most likely explanation for the situation represented by the three previously mentioned books, however, is that sport history as a discipline has not kept pace with the conceptual and theoretical changes in the fields of imperial/colonial history and racial scholarship, the consequence of which has served to marginalize scholarship about Indigenous sport.

As indicated by contributions to the Routledge Companion to Sports History, Sports History, and The Oxford Companion of Sports History, a rich vein of scholarship investigates the relationship between sport, imperialism, and colonialism.5 Usually driven by the conceptual frameworks of cultural imperialism or cultural hegemony, historians have detailed the diffusion of modern sport—particularly baseball, cricket, and football (in its various forms) from Britain and the United States to both official colonies and informal parts of their empires.6

As rich and compelling as these histories are, they conflate colonialism with settler colonialism, missing what a more nuanced understanding of colonialism, in all of its different forms, means for sport history. Settler colonialism is often subsumed under the broader phenomena of colonialism in sport history, but, as Patrick Wolfe argues, settler colonialism is a specific practice that raises a set of unique questions, issues, and problems for historians.7 As Veracini contends, colonialism and settler colonialism share the feature of exogenous domination over their...


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