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  • Space, Environment, and AppropriationSport and Settler Colonialism in Mi'kma'ki

The displacement of Indigenous populations by settler societies forming within the British Empire was a global development during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one in which settler sport took a significant role. Settler colonialism must be understood as a spatial and environmental phenomenon as well as a social and political one. This essay focuses on one geographical area: Mi'kma'ki, the homeland of the Mi'kmaq, corresponding to a substantial proportion of what is known in non-Indigenous terms as Canada's Maritime region. It reflects on the direct and indirect appropriation of unceded Indigenous space for sporting purposes, along with the implications for Indigenous sport and the nature of Indigenous response to settler encroachment. Sport as an important element of social and cultural history has strong explanatory power in showing how settler colonialism and Indigenous persistence became entangled.


environnent, indigenous, Mi'kma'ki, settler colonialism, settler sport

Settler colonialism must be understood as a spatial and environmental phenomenon, as well as a social and political one. The displacement of Indigenous populations by settler colonial societies forming within the British Empire was a global development during the [End Page 242] eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has continuing implications far beyond those eras. This essay, while focusing primarily on one geographical area—Mi'kma'ki, the homeland of the Mi'kmaq, corresponding to a substantial proportion of what is known in non-Indigenous terms as Canada's Maritime region—will reflect on the relationship between sport history and settler colonialism in the broad context of the environmental and demographic characteristics of settler colonialism in northeastern North America. Despite the principles of peace and friendship that formally governed imperial–Indigenous relations in this part of North America, embodied in treaties that made no surrender of land and supplemented by the land-related provisions of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Indigenous territory was appropriated by settlers in substantial numbers from the Loyalist era onward. The foundation of settler colonialism, therefore, was environmental and demographic. As Indigenous inhabitants were crowded into small and unproductive reserve confines, settlement brought about a new configuration of space that accommodated a settler economy based largely on agriculture and commercial resource harvesting but also extended to the use of space for multiple sporting activities.

Sport in this context represented a powerful confirmation of the ascendancy of colonial settlement, in its use of unceded Indigenous space for recreational purposes. Sport also increasingly reinforced settler colonialism in other respects. Social networks among settler colonial communities were continually created and renewed through the visits of sports teams to neighboring villages and towns, along with socialization that involved both women and men. As the settler dominions became more populous, moreover, sport-related contacts among them—such as the reciprocal visits by cricket teams and, at an artisanal level, the mobility of professional players—extended networking to a transoceanic scale. At the same time, it was also true that, for displaced Indigenous inhabitants, sport could offer potential survival strategies through which traditional skills could be used to earn cash through gaining limited access to the settler economy. Just as Mi'kmaw men could find employment in some places as guides for hunting and fishing, so Indigenous knowledge of forest resources could be combined with woodworking skills in the production of sporting items such as hockey sticks. Insofar as settler regattas and foot races offered cash prizes, these events too could provide opportunities for both Mi'kmaw women and men. However, such strategies came in the context of a much more comprehensive dispossession through colonial settlement and environmental change. The essay argues that, from the broad perspective of sport history, it is important that the role of early settler sports in establishing settler colonialism be fully assessed. Within a growing historiography—pertaining to Mi'kma'ki itself and to many other contexts—that recognizes both the destructive force of settler encroachment and the continuities arising from Indigenous resilience, the explanatory potential of sport history is powerful and compelling.1


The appropriation of space in Mi'kma'ki by colonial settlement, while sharing some characteristics with other instances of settler colonialism, had important distinctive elements. It proceeded despite a sustained treaty relationship that, during much of the eighteenth century, had established peace and friendship without land surrender as the basis of the relationship between the Mi'kmaq—along with the neighboring Wulstukwiuk [End Page 243] and Passamaquoddy peoples—and British imperial authorities. Although British claims to Mi'kma'ki dated from the early seventeenth century and were uncontested by the French from the time of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the British presence remained weak and vulnerable as late as during the era of the American Revolution. French Acadians had settled in enclaves during the seventeenth century, but most had been deported by the British in the mid-eighteenth. British establishment of the port and naval center of Halifax in 1749, the reoccupation of some Acadian sites by New Englanders, and the establishment of other British and British-sponsored settlers in isolated locations had yet to amount by the early 1780s to the attainment of any critical mass of colonial settlement sufficient to threaten the basis of the Indigenous treaties. As in Aotearoa/New Zealand in a slightly later era, the treaty relationship was a political settlement that had apparent solidity, with the distinctive characteristic that, in Mi'kma'ki, the comprehensive treaty-making of 1760–61 had greater effect in ending physical violence among the parties than did, at least in its early years, the Treaty of Waitangi. Continuing Mi'kmaw military capacity, while generally not exercised, was sufficient to deter either British governors or the limited number of settlers from aggressive actions.2

The crucial blow to the stability of the treaty relationship came with the Loyalist-era migration of 1782 to 1784. Some 35,000 migrants arrived in Mi'kma'ki and Wulstukwik during those years, comprising refugees from the civil conflict that the American Revolutionary War had represented, together in some cases with enslaved people, and discharged British military personnel. Other migrant groups, notably Scots and Irish, also began to arrive in much larger numbers than their earlier small enclaves in Mi'kma'ki. While the treaties, accompanied by the restrictions on Indigenous land surrender imposed by the Royal Proclamation, did not lose their legal force, it would take until the late twentieth century for Canadian courts to recognize their continuing authority. In the meantime, the damage to Mi'kma'ki and its Indigenous inhabitants was sudden and drastic. Demographic pressures became acute. Environmental degradation through such practices as establishment of settler towns and villages, clearing land for agriculture, and unprecedented exploitation of such resources as fisheries and timber was widespread. Although the apparatus of the settler state had already existed, in the form of colonial assemblies and settler courts, the widespread control of territory and resources meant that it now had the ability to exercise power in Mi'kma'ki to a degree that would have previously been unthinkable. There continued to be nuances and variations, in that some localities were colonized sooner and more heavily than others and also in that Indigenous awareness of the treaties persisted. The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 imposed pressures on imperial officials such that Indigenous demands for gifts and reciprocity could not easily be dismissed. Yet, notably after 1815, the results remained bleak. The initiation of an explicit reserve system by the colony of Nova Scotia in 1820, which followed less-formal arrangements there and in the neighboring colonies of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, both symbolized and enforced the marginalization of the Indigenous population.3

Thus, the onset of settler colonialism in Mi'kma'ki had certain salient characteristics. It was not preceded by a military conquest or by formal Indigenous land surrender. Rather, it resulted from the sudden descent of settlers in unprecedentedly large numbers that arose from the external circumstances created by the success of the American Revolution and [End Page 244] was then supplemented by other migrant streams. It was not a gradual accretion but an abrupt departure. Its force came from the ability of demographic pressure to underpin drastic environmental change. The rapid colonization of space was its defining attribute. Yet rapid transformation demanded that the normalization of settler control of space also take place speedily, as new colonial communities became embedded in the human as well as the physical geography of Mi'kma'ki. Here the process extended beyond environment, if strictly defined, and entered into the cultural history of settler colonialism. As Jeffers Lennox has convincingly noted in an innovative study of the competition between Indigenous homelands and imperial pretensions in Mi'kma'ki and neighboring areas prior to the full onset of colonial settlement, "[T]erritory had to be known before it could be controlled."4 By extension, even after settlement had gathered force, the same principle applied, in that the recasting of space in the image of the settler society was a crucial measure of colonial control. Sport was a powerful tool for doing so, and, in key respects, it was used to contribute to the construction of a settler imagination and a settler landscape.


Landscape and seascape were crucial to the correspondent of the Pictou Observer and Eastern Advertiser who greeted the morning of Queen Victoria's coronation on June 28, 1838, and the "manly sports" that were to commemorate the occasion. Pictou was one of the few major settler towns in Mi'kma'ki that retained an Indigenous place name, but the horse races, foot races, and regatta presented a solidly settler configuration in recognition of the imperial celebration. It is possible that there was Indigenous participation in a canoe race that "afforded much amusement," but the newspaper did not provide details. Above all, the day itself symbolized the serenity to which settler society aspired:

The day dawned with the characteristic softness of a morning in June, and every house poured out its tenants long before the usual hour. Not a breath was stirring sufficient to displace a ringlet on the brow of one of the fair damsels who graced the sports with their presence, nor even to disturb the sleeping shadows of the ships in the harbour, which rested on the placid surface as steadily and immovably as if they had been sketched there by the pencil of an artist.5

More broadly, the use of space itself could be a demonstration of the stability of early settler communities and the assumption of permanence in their control of space. Given the climate of Mi'kma'ki, it is not surprising that many sport and leisure activities took place on ice. They included wicket—an early form of cricket that, in its form on ice, may have contributed to the origins of ice hockey—as well as ice hockey itself, skating, horse racing, and ice boating.6 Protests that surfaced occasionally in newspapers regarding rough behavior on the ice only added to the clear acceptance of the space for unrestrained settler use. In 1829, for example, a correspondent of the Pictou Colonial Patriot complained that "every idiot who feels disposed to profane the Lord's day, may now secure from any consequences turn out with skates on feet, hurly in hand, and play the delectable game of break-shins."7 Some twenty-four years later, profanation of the Sabbath was also a concern of the author of an article in the Halifax Acadian Recorder who noted that on a recent Sunday a Halifax lake was "literally covered with skaters, with their hurlies" and the nearby North-West Arm—a salt-water inlet—was similarly occupied, while "well dressed females were to be [End Page 245] seen in considerable numbers on the shores, enjoying the scene."8 As in the Pictou account of Victoria's coronation day, the presence of women reinforced the normalization of settler space.

There were other land spaces used for sport that were more specifically tied to imperial or settler uses. In earlier years, forts had served as symbols of an imperial presence even when—as in Mi'kma'ki—they conspicuously failed to overawe the Indigenous population. Well into the era of settler colonialism, however, military installations were also centers of sport, and, in at least two conspicuous cases in Mi'kma'ki, their sports grounds remained for settler use even after the withdrawal of imperial forces. The grounds of Fort Anne remained the home of the Annapolis Royal Cricket Club for decades after the removal of the garrison in 1854, while, in Halifax, the Garrison Grounds continued to host cricket matches involving military and civilian teams after the withdrawal of British forces in 1906.9 Also shared at times by military and settler use, but primarily settler spaces, were the common lands set aside for grazing and other purposes in many settler towns. As early as 1768, a course for horse racing had been established on the Halifax Common, where, also in 1800, an area of some 160 acres was set aside as a military exercising ground but was also a venue for military and civilian sport.10 Cricket, the earliest settler team sport in Halifax and elsewhere, was played frequently on common grounds before cricket clubs cleared and developed their own playing fields. In July 1877, for example, the Digby Common was the venue for a match between the local club and a team from Annapolis Royal.11 Later in the nineteenth century, a further variation on the occupation of settler space for leisure purposes became evident near the town of New Glasgow, when summer cottagers of a beach district formed a cricket team to play at a location known as Little Harbor—in this case, the use of space for settler sport was superimposed on an existing use of space for summer leisure, thus accentuating the benign countenance of colonial occupancy.12

Beyond the direct use of space, sport also offered a means by which settler social networks could be formed and maintained, connecting individual communities and fostering awareness of both landscape and town development in their settler colonial forms. In Mi'kma'ki, again, cricket as an early settler sport provides key examples. In late August 1886, the Digby cricket team played a match at Bridgetown, approximately fifty kilometers distant by water transportation. As with many visits to adjoining centers and with the additional goal of contributing to transportation costs, this one was an excursion that included friends and neighbors of the team. As one player wrote,

The sail up the crooked river for twenty-one miles, was much enjoyed. The extensive meadow-lands, large farm residences surrounded by fruit trees, beautiful landscape scenery, etc.—being taken in by the company—went far to shorten time, and we arrived at the beautiful little town of Bridgetown about 9 o'clock, were warmly received by our opponents, and escorted to the "Central House," where we breakfasted; after which we repaired to the grounds for the contest.13

While undoubtedly to the taste of the Digby travelers, the landscape was of course overwhelmingly a settler creation. The town of Bridgetown itself was also fully described in the newspaper report. The visitors were conducted through the schoolhouse, where they "found the rooms to be very spacious and airy, and seated with the latest design of desk, [End Page 246] manufactured in the town." Most impressive of all was the three-storey poorhouse, where "as many as eighty paupers have lived . . . at one time; at present it contains but thirty-five principally elderly females."14 Along with reciprocal visits between settler towns came hospitality and socialization, involving both men and women. While the Digby visitors to Bridgetown in 1886 were entertained at a hotel, it was also a convention for "the lady friends of the . . . team"—as at a match in Digby itself some three years later—to serve refreshments at the lunch interval.15 By promoting inexpensive visits among communities by groups consisting largely of young adults, therefore, sport was crucial to aspirations toward a coherent settler society and to its situation within a securely settled landscape.

On occasion, visiting sports teams could receive a different form of entertainment. An earlier visiting cricket team to Digby, in 1877, had been provided with "a sumptuous dinner" at the house of the Digby captain W. Sawry Gilpin, whose occupation was recorded in both the 1871 and 1881 censuses simply as a "hunter."16 To what degree Gilpin considered himself to be a hunter for sport and to what degree he may have been a professional hunter in a more commercial sense is not clear from surviving evidence. Either way, the existence of such a census description provides an illustration of the incompleteness, despite the environmental transformations that had taken place, of the settler project to reconfigure the landscape of Mi'kma'ki. For all the development of towns and the domestication of land for agricultural purposes—or even, as in the town of Wolfville, the notion that the sports field was situated in "such large and convenient grounds, almost prepared by the hand of nature"17—nature in other forms still bordered on colonial settlement. Sport hunting and fishing, however, provided a convenient linkage, extending control—at least in the settler imagination—to areas not directly reached by colonial population.

Recreational hunting and fishing was, of course, a long-established phenomenon in European and colonial contexts. During the nineteenth century, however, two related cultural developments altered the significance of these activities in Mi'kma'ki. One was the growth of imperial travel narratives that emphasized the romanticized challenges of an exotic wilderness, while the other was the later development of an antimodernism that brought hunters and fishers primarily from the northeastern United States to restore energies depleted from the demands of affluent, urban lives. For participants in these activities, well-regulated sport contrasted with the unscrupulous hunting or fishing techniques and the subsistence orientation that they associated with Indigenous inhabitants. As Jeffrey L. McNairn has pointed out, efforts by Mi'kmaw men to maintain a semblance of the mobile harvesting economy that had been subverted by settlement—whether in inland areas remote from colonial commerce and unsuitable for agriculture or on river systems such as that of the Miramichi in the portion of Mi'kma'ki known to settlers as eastern New Brunswick—were taken to represent aimless roaming that contributed only to idleness and stagnation.18 Even though Indigenous knowledge could be essential through the mediation of Mi'kmaw guides, travel literature emphasized the skills, the moral precepts, and the wisdom in the ways of natural science that could derive from the sporting pursuit of fish and game in a majestic wilderness.19 Whether for off-duty military officers, for members of the professional and mercantile elites of the more urbanized areas of settlement, or for travelers specifically attracted by opportunities for manly prowess, the enticements of the outdoors were clear and powerful. As the nineteenth century wore on, the notion of adventure in [End Page 247] the wild was supplemented by a growing antimodernism that portrayed escape from the pressures of urban life—for those who could afford it—as an essential interlude and an opportunity to become reacquainted with the freedom and vitality now associated with the wilderness and with the Indigenous inhabitants who would be encountered as guides. Sporting tourism, notably where the province of New Brunswick dispensed exclusive fishing privileges on stretches of major rivers, came to be promoted systematically and retained its appeal into the twentieth century, further stimulated by the development of automobile transportation.20

At first sight, the idealization of the direct products of settler colonialism in such forms as urban development or the creation of picturesque rural landscapes and the idealization of a wilderness experience were markedly different. Taken together, however, they amounted to a powerful and comprehensive assertion of settler control of Indigenous space. And sport was a crucial linkage between them. Certainly, frictions might exist. As fish and game regulations increasingly outlawed Indigenous harvesting in favor of the pursuits of wealthy sportsmen, rural settlers also found their subsistence activities constrained and protested accordingly.21 Yet regulation too was carried out by settler colonial institutions. Sport took a prominent role in the normalization of settler colonial society in the areas of travel and landscape, and as the settler dominions became more urbanized and more closely connected by fast transoceanic transport, so the normalization extended its scope through extended sporting networks.22 But insofar as there were areas that did not experience the full demographic and environmental impacts of settlement, fish and game legislation provided an important opportunity to assert the legitimacy of settler colonial rule. Sport and settler colonialism, therefore, were tightly intertwined.


Despite the inescapable linkage of settler colonialism with the goal of Indigenous erasure, despite settler predictions of Mi'kmaw demise, and despite the profound costs of disease and deprivation in reserve communities, colonial settlement was not fatal to Mi'kma'ki.23 Sport, again, had a significant role in this outcome. One manifestation of persistence lay in the durability of Indigenous sport. For comparison, in the context of the Haudenosaunee—far to the west of Mi'kma'ki—lacrosse is the classic illustration of a sport retaining a strong Indigenous integrity despite settler appropriation. Gillian Poulter has pointed out the irony through which Indigenous teams were "paraded at home and abroad in 'full regalia' as an attention-getter" at settler events and ceremonies at the same time as Indigenous decision-making and autonomies were being steadily negated under the 1876 Indian Act of the settler Dominion of Canada.24 Yet, as Allan Downey has shown, lacrosse remained nevertheless a powerful expression of Haudenosaunee integrity.25 In Mi'kma'ki, a strong case can be made for the evolution of ice hockey—at least in part—from Indigenous stick sports.26 That the sport was played together by Mi'kmaw and settler players prior to its codification is suggested by the later recollection of a young non-Indigenous player from Dartmouth, Byron Arthur Weston, that "he played hockey in the [eighteen-] sixties and that they had games with the Micmac Indians who resided near the lake." According to Weston, "[T]he Indians played the game on the Dartmouth Lakes long before the sixties."27 [End Page 248]

More broadly, however, sport in its many varieties formed one significant part of a complex of survival strategies developed by Mi'kmaw communities throughout Mi'kma'ki in the wake of displacement by colonial settlement. As Andrew Parnaby has shown in an important study of communities on Cape Breton Island in the mid-nineteenth-century era, such strategies were necessarily diverse.28 Although reserve communities were typically situated in infertile environmental conditions, certain forms of agriculture assumed importance as traditionally mobile harvesting economies were circumscribed by settlement. Growing potatoes and other root vegetables coexisted where conditions allowed with cultivation of other crops in small quantities and with maintaining domestic livestock. Pressure came in part from imperial officials who regarded Mi'kmaw subsistence as a problem to be resolved by abandonment of what one Nova Scotia governor, the Earl of Dalhousie, described slightingly in 1817 as "their natural habits and inclination for a wandering life,"29 but the pressure of necessity was the crucial factor. Yet agriculture in the context of an unfavorable environment, for most Mi'kmaw families, was never going to be adequate in itself to ensure survival. Accordingly, a mixed economy developed. It could include some elements of traditionally mobile harvesting, notably of free-growing fruits and vegetables, but also depended crucially on gaining some degree of access to the settler economy. Supplying natural forest products, sale of handmade artistry including such items as basketry and mosaics, and, for some men and women, outright wage labor in contexts such as forestry and seafood production became indispensable. While compensation might in some instances take the form of essential supplies (including food) or credit arrangements, the ideal medium of exchange was cash, of which even small quantities could be vital in chronically cash-poor communities.

In all of these respects, settler sport was a significant resource. An early example lay in the emergence of regattas as a prime and lasting component of settler recreation. With cash prizes typically offered for winning entries in contests that ranged from small craft to larger sailing vessels, such events frequently included canoe races. At one such regatta in Halifax Harbour in July 1826, a newspaper correspondent described the arrival of the competitors in the canoe class:

Four canoes paddled by Indians were entered. Two came in nearly stem and stern; and as they passed along the wharves, the repeated huzzas from crowds of people, were answered as frequently by the Indian whoop which added much to the pleasure of the scene.30

An indication of the substantial cash value of the race was the prize of £5 awarded to the winner, "an Indian called Paul."31 As such events continued over the years, the number of canoes increased, and by 1836, women as well as men were entered—thus supporting Parnaby's observation that, in this era, Mi'kmaw gender roles were interwoven in the interests of community survival.32 The Acadian Recorder provided a full description:

On Monday last, agreeably to notice, seven Indian Canoes, manned by three Indians each, started at two o'clock from the Mining Company's wharf. The Race was well contested; the Indians entered into the sport with good spirit, they stripped naked to the waist and struck out the paddle in gallant style; but it appeared they spent their energy in the outset, as they could not be persuaded to engage in a second race. The prizes were awarded in the following order: 1st, Sapier Paul; 2nd, Peter Paul; 3rd to Francis Sapier.33 [End Page 249]

Although clearly for the men enough performance was enough, the women's race followed immediately, with eight participants in four canoes: "after pulling around the ballast buoy, they arrived in the following order and the prizes were awarded accordingly—1st Madeline Paul; 2 Sally Tonne; 3rd, Nelly Tonne, and the 4th, Sally Wilmot."34 At a later regatta, which included a similar sequence of men's and women's races, the newspaper commented that "the Indian Canoe Races . . . were, as usual, the most interesting of the day."35 At horse racing meets in Halifax of the same era, moreover, similar attention was given to foot races for cash prizes that also involved Mi'kmaw competitors.36

Trivialization of Indigenous knowledge and prowess for settler entertainment was faithfully reflected in the tone of the newspaper coverage of such events. As one correspondent calmly recorded, "[T]he grotesque appearance, activity and ardor of these children of the forest, form a main part of the interest of our Regatta."37 Yet the knowledge and prowess itself remained independent of settler condescension and instead reflected resilience in the face of environmental depredation. The same held true for the production of sports equipment using traditional methods, an outstanding example being the "Mic-Mac" hockey stick. Byron Arthur Weston, the same observer who had played hockey on a Dartmouth lake with Mi'kmaw players during the 1860s, also recalled from the vantage point of the 1940s that the hockey sticks had been "made by the Indians, who make them today."38 Hockey sticks were carved initially from hornbeam wood, particularly from roots that had natural curvature, although their manufacture was later extended to other hardwoods. Following an initial cut to rough shape, fine carving was carried out using similar tools to those used in basketry.39 By 1898, one federal Indian agent was convinced that—along with the making of oars—hockey sticks had become substantial economic generators for Mi'kmaw communities on a scale comparable with baskets and coopering products.40 "Hundreds of hurleys" were made in a variety of areas of Mi'kma'ki, though concentrated in places within easy shipping range of Dartmouth, where they were bought wholesale by the Starr Manufacturing Company—also a manufacturer of skates—for widespread distribution that ultimately involved the Canada-wide retailer the T. Eaton Company.41 While handmade sticks were superseded for commercial purposes during the early decades of the twentieth century, they provided during a crucial nineteenth-century era an important additional source of access to cash derived from the settler economy.

Working as guides for sport fishers and hunters represented a further valuable source of employment income for men in Mi'kmaw communities close to favored hunting areas or to major river systems. As Indigenous hunters and fishers were systematically excluded from harvesting that used traditional methods—such as spearing salmon or night hunting of deer—deemed unsporting by tourists attracted by antimodernist idealism, so the tourists in turn had need of practical knowledge that could translate their idyll into attainable sojourns in the wilds. It was important, of course, that guides should have an air of authenticity, as they represented an innocence and nobility that had supposedly preceded the prevalence of a sophistication and complexity that the tourists sought—though strictly temporarily—to escape.42 Thus, as with the Mi'kmaw canoeists in settler regattas, a strong element of performance was required. Nevertheless, so was a depth of Indigenous knowledge. As tourism from the northeastern United States increased in the later decades of the nineteenth century, skilled guides on salmon rivers could earn as much as $3 per day, although the [End Page 250] work was physically hard and the hours long. As Bill Parenteau has pointed out, "[F]rom the perspective of the salmon angler, a good salmon guide was a companion who gave assistance and shared in the thrill of the catch, without being intrusive or too pointedly giving directions. Personality traits, such as stoicism, a sense of humour, and the ability to recount Native folk legends, could enhance the reputation of a guide."43 The same could be said for hunting guides in, say, the area southeast of settler towns such as Digby and Annapolis Royal, where hunting lodges proliferated.

In Mi'kma'ki following the onset of the full force of settler colonialism, therefore, settler sport in its diverse forms could offer possibilities for survival strategies through which Mi'kmaw communities sought as far as possible to offset the impact of abrupt displacement and dispossession. The price in one sense was the commodification of skills based on Indigenous knowledge. Infusion of resources, including cash in whatever quantities might be attainable, into resource-poor reserve communities required gaining access to the settler economy in ways that enabled knowledge to be converted into marketable techniques and proficiencies. Transportation technology such as the canoe, together with related skills in its handling, was an entry point into races—which also, as did foot races, demanded physical strength and endurance—for both men and women, with cash prizes as the reward. Knowledge of wood as a material for high-quality sports equipment gave rise to skills in manufacturing at a level that became an effective counterpart for longer-established coopering and basketry production. At a broader environmental level, a profound knowledge of fish and animal habitat underpinned the skills and qualities that enabled guiding at the highest level. That skills were commodified for settler consumption and that matching performance abilities might be added to them did not imply that Indigenous knowledge as such experienced commodification. Rather, resilience demanded that colonial settlement—notably through its sporting characteristics—must in itself be treated as a resource to be commodified for purposes of Indigenous survival.


Settler colonialism came to Mi'kma'ki in a distinctive pattern by which a previous imperial–Indigenous equilibrium was suddenly and comprehensively disrupted. Because the engine of the change was rapid migration, environmental and demographic factors were crucial in the Indigenous dispossession that followed. There was no military conquest, no formal surrender of land. Rather, the enlargement of settler control and use of space was a central process in itself, although quickly claiming validation by settler institutions such as courts and elected assemblies. Over the decades that followed the effective ending in 1815 of restraints on the settler colonial advance, sport in a variety of forms lent plausibility to settler claims—notably in normalizing settler landscapes but also in assertion of control even over areas that settlement itself had yet to reach—although it could also provide much-needed opportunities for Indigenous communities to tap into a settler economy for resources that could make the difference between the success or failure of survival strategies. Thus, in complex and extended processes to which gender was integral in both Indigenous and settler contexts, sport history has a strong explanatory power that neither the historiography of settler colonial–Indigenous relationships nor that of sport itself has yet fully explored. The recent historiography of Mi'kma'ki has come to emphasize continuity, [End Page 251] recognizing a legacy of cultural and political integrity connected in part with the upholding of the treaties of peace and friendship by the Supreme Court of Canada in multiple cases. Substantial works include Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis's delineation of the persistent interlacing of language and landscape in Mi'kma'ki despite settler encroachment; Martha Walls's analysis of the ways in which twentieth-century Mi'kmaw political practice continued to be informed by a distinctively Indigenous political culture; William Wicken's two studies of the binding up of legal processes both with eighteenth-century imperial–Indigenous relations and with the complexities of Mi'kmaw historical memory of treaty-making; and the insistence of Marie Battiste and other Mi'kmaw authors on the linkage of past and future through "living treaties."44 In identifying the continuities in Mi'kma'ki and in drawing comparisons and contrasts with other areas of the world in which settler colonialism and Indigenous persistence became entangled, sport as a fundamental element of social and cultural history must enter into the analysis. [End Page 252]

John Reid
Saint Mary's University
All correspondence to


. An earlier version of this essay was presented to the NASSH Symposium on "Indigenous Resurgence, Regeneration, and Decolonization through Sport History" on 23 May 2018. I am very grateful to everyone who participated in the workshop for valuable comments and the finest of collegial support, and especially to Michelle Sikes, the assigned reader for this essay. The keynote address by Eugene Arcand was and remains an inspiration.

1. The essays collected in this special issue of the Journal of Sport History provide excellent illustrations of the contributions of sport historians. For a spectrum of works within the historiographical framework of settler colonialism, see Edward Cavanagh and Lorenzo Veracini, eds., The Routledge Handbook of the History of Settler Colonialism (Abingdon, GB: Routledge, 2017). Recent works on the history of Mi'kma'ki by Marie Battiste, Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis, Martha Walls, and William Wicken are cited elsewhere in this essay.

2. This summary is based largely on Thomas Peace and John G. Reid, "Colonies of Settlement and Settler Colonialism in Northeastern North America, 1450–1850," in The Routledge Handbook of the History of Settler Colonialism, 79–94; John G. Reid, "Pax Britannica or Pax Indigena? Planter Nova Scotia (1760–1782) and Competing Strategies of Pacification," Canadian Historical Review 85 (2004): 669–92; and John G. Reid, "Imperial–Aboriginal Friendship in Eighteenth-Century Mi'kma'ki/Wulstukwik," in The Loyal Atlantic: Remaking the British Atlantic in the Revolutionary Era, ed. Jerry Bannister and Liam Riordan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 75–102.

3. For extended discussion, see John G. Reid, "Empire, the Maritime Colonies, and the Supplanting of Mi'kma'ki/Wulstukwik, 1780–1820," Acadiensis 38.2 (2009): 78–97.

4. Jeffers Lennox, Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690–1763 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017), 256.

5. "The Coronation," Pictou Observer and Eastern Advertiser (NS), 3 July 1838, 15.

6. On wicket and for one among many references to ice skating, see "Winter Sports," The Novascotian, 24 February 1831, 59; for horse racing, see A. J. "Sandy" Young, Beyond Heroes: A Sport History of Nova Scotia, 2 vols. (Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1988), I:44–45; on ice boating, see Young, Beyond Heroes, II:146–47.

7. "A" to Editor, Colonial Patriot (Pictou, NS), 4 February 1829, 2.

8. "Sabbath Desecration," Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 22 January 1853, 3.

9. Barry Moody, A History of Annapolis Royal, Volume 2, 1749–2005 (Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing, 2014); Brian Cuthbertson, The Halifax Citadel: Portrait of a Military Fortress (Halifax, NS: Formac Publishing, 2001).

10. William Young, legal opinion, 10 December 1858, in Petition of the City of Halifax to Her Majesty the Queen Respecting the Interference of the Military Authorities with the Common and Documents, &C., Connected Therewith (Halifax, NS: James Bowes, 1859), 24–27; for an example of the scheduling of a cricket match for the exercising ground, see "A Cricket Match," Acadian Recorder, 3 June 1815, 3. On the race course, see Colin D. Howell, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers: Sport and the Making of Modern Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 18.

11. "Cricket Matches," Digby Weekly Courier (NS), 3 August 1877, 2.

12. "Cricket at Melmerby," Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow, NS), 8 September 1898, 1.

13. "Cricket: Bridgetown vs. Digby," Digby Weekly Courier, 3 September 1886, 2. For a discussion of settler colonial landscape in a baseball context, see also Craig Fortier, "Stealing Home: Decolonizing Baseball's Origin Stories and Their Relations to Settler Colonialism," Settler Colonial Studies 6.1 (2016): 7–8.

14. "Cricket: Bridgetown vs. Digby," Digby Weekly Courier, 3 September 1886, 2.

15. "Cricket," Digby Weekly Courier, 23 August 1889, 2.

16. "Cricket Match," Digby Weekly Courier, 6 July 1877, 2; Canada Census, 1871 and 1881.

17. "Local and Provincial," Acadian (Wolfville, NS), 16 June 1899, 3.

18. Jeffrey L. McNairn, "Meaning and Markets: Hunting, Economic Development and British Imperialism in Maritime Travel Narratives to 1870," Acadiensis 34.2 (2005): 12–13; Howell, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers, 14–17.

19. Howell, Blood, Sweat, and Cheers, 15–23. For an important discussion focusing primarily on Lower Canada/Quebec, see also Gillian Poulter, Becoming Native in a Foreign Land: Sport, Visual Culture, and Identity in Montreal, 1840–85 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009), 65–115.

20. Bill Parenteau, "'Care, Control and Supervision': Native People in the Canadian Atlantic Salmon Fishery, 1867–1900," Canadian Historical Review 79.1 (1998): 1–35, esp. 27–30; William Wicken, The Colonization of Mi'kmaw Memory and History, 1794–1928: The King v. Gabriel Sylliboy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 32–40; Ian McKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994), 3–42 passim.

21. See Bill Parenteau and Richard W. Judd, "More Buck for the Bang: Sporting and the Ideology of Fish and Game Management in Northern New England and the Maritime Provinces, 1870–1900," in New England and the Maritime Provinces: Connections and Comparisons, ed. Stephen J. Hornsby and John G. Reid (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005), esp. 244–50

22. For an example, see John G. Reid, "Cricket, the Retired Feather Merchant, and Settler Colonialism: The Troubled Halifax Sojourn of A. H. Leighton, 1912," Acadiensis 46.1 (2017): 73–96.

23. On the commitment of settler colonial societies to Indigenous erasure, see Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), esp. 25–26, 101, 109.

24. Poulter, Becoming Native in a Foreign Land, 155–56.

25. Allan Downey, The Creator's Game: Lacrosse, Identity, and Indigenous Nationhood (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018).

26. Paul W. Bennett, "Re-Imagining the Creation: 'Two-Eyed Seeing' and the 'Family Squabble' over the Origins of Canadian Hockey," paper presented to North American Society for Sport History, Halifax, NS, May 2013; also Paul W. Bennett, "Reimagining the Creation: The 'Missing Indigenous Link' in the Origins of Canadian Hockey," Acadiensis: Blogging the History of Atlantic Canada, 18 January 2019, [accessed 27 April 2019].

27. Frank Power, "Halifax Prominent in Early Stage of Game," Halifax Mail, 26 March 1943, 12.

28. Andrew Parnaby, "The Cultural Economy of Survival: The Mi'kmaq of Cape Breton in the Mid-19th Century," Labour/Le Travail 61 (2008): 69–98; see also, for a slightly later period, Wicken, The Colonization of Mi'kmaw Memory and History, 131–53.

29. Draft letter of Dalhousie, 8 March 1817, Nova Scotia Archives, Dalhousie Papers, sect. 1, 26–29.

30. "The Regatta," Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 22 July 1826, 3. For this and other Acadian Recorder references to Mi'kmaw canoeing, I am indebted to Young, Beyond Heroes, II, 88–89, 116–17.

31. "The Regatta," Acadian Recorder, 22 July 1826, 3.

32. Parnaby, "The Cultural Economy of Survival," 93.

33. "The Races," Acadian Recorder, 24 September 1836, 3.

34. "The Races," Acadian Recorder, 24 September 1836.

35. "Rowing Boats," Acadian Recorder, 11 October 1845, 3.

36. "Halifax Races," Acadian Recorder, 27 June 1840, 3; "The Races," Acadian Recorder, 30 August 1845, 3.

37. "Grand Regatta," Acadian Recorder, 30 May 1829, 3.

38. Frank Power, "Halifax Prominent in Early Stage of Game," Halifax Mail, 26 March 1943, 12.

39. Emma Smith, "Stickhandling: First Nations Played Big Role in Carving out Hockey History," Chronicle Herald (Halifax), 13 December 2014, at [accessed 25 January 2018]. The information on carving techniques contained in the article was provided by Keith Julien of Millbrook First Nation.

40. Dominion of Canada Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs for the year ended 30th June 1898, 62, cited in Brian Cuthbertson, "The Starr Manufacturing Company: Skate Exporter to the World," Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society 8 (2005): 61. See also Wicken, The Colonization of Mi'kmaw Memory and History, 148.

41. Cuthbertson, "The Starr Manufacturing Company," 60–63. The quotation is from the stickmaker Isaac Cope; quoted in Cuthbertson, "The Starr Manufacturing Company,", 61.

42. See McNairn, "Meaning and Markets," 20–23; Parenteau and Judd, "More Buck for the Bang," 242–43.

43. Parenteau, "'Care, Control, and Supervision,'" 24.

44. Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis, The Language of this Land, Mi'kma'ki (Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2012); Martha Elizabeth Walls, No Need of a Chief for This Band: The Maritime Mi'kmaq and Federal Electoral Legislation, 1899–1951 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010); William C. Wicken, Mi'kmaq Treaties on Trial: History, Land, and Donald Marshall Junior (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); Wicken, The Colonization of Mi'kmaw Memory and History; Marie Battiste, ed., Living Treaties: Narrating Mi'kmaw Treaty Relations (Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2016).

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