5 Ways To Begin Decolonizing Sports

Colonization is the act of settling among, and establishing control over the Indigenous people of an area. In Canada, Colonization has impacted every aspect of life in this land, including government, economics, education, law, and sports.

As we move toward a collective understanding of our social responsibility for one another, and the world we live in, the perils of colonialism have become more evident. In the sports world, as in other parts of our society, it is important to begin decolonizing, and finding a better, more respectful, more accepting, and more inclusive way to operate.

Here are five steps governing bodies, coaches, parents, and organizations can begin decolonizing sport:

1. Stop calling hockey “Canada’s Game” – If we can untie the game of hockey as a core component of the collective identity of those who currently inhabit this land, we can begin to take away hockey’s colonizing power. That those who play hockey here are obviously more Canadian, or are truly Canadian. We need to reconize that some Indigenous people who play hockey, do not self-identify as Canadian. The mere fact that hockey originated from ‘stick and ball’ games played in England, and that ‘shinny,’ a widely accepted precursor to organized hockey is derived from the Scottish game shinty, tells us of the games Colonial roots. Hockey was later used directly at residential schools as a social engineering tool to encourage Indigenous youth to self-identify as Canadian, thereby shedding their Indigenous roots. Removing the mandate that playing hockey makes you inherently more Canadian is a start, and that comes with how we educate youth about the game. You don’t need to play hockey to be a part of this land.

2. Rid Sports of Racist, Colonizing Mascots – Indigenous people are just that, people. Indigenous athletes are athletes. Indigenous people are not mascots. A few examples include the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, and the Chicago Blackhawks. The use of these names, and logos is dysconscious racism, or cultural imperialism, which serves to maintain the superiority of one culture over another – in this case, that of settlers over Indigenous peoples. The use of these names and logos by businesses in professional sports is a form of neocolonialism, and also cultural appropriation. It’s time these organizations make the move to change their names and logos permanently, and government should ban the future use of such names in sports.

3. Create Funding For All Indigenous Youth To Participate In Sport – Through residential schools, and laws enacted since, Colonial settlers have created economic marginalization, and impoverished many Indigenous people and communities. With rising costs related to playing organized sport, this exclusion and marginalization has continued. These generational impacts have limited Indigenous participation in sport at various levels. It’s time the doors open for Indigenous youth. The Truth and Reconciliation calls to action bring this issue to the forefront in Call To Action #90, among others, meaning this is not something we can do, it’s something we must do. Opportunity and access should not exist only for white privileged Canadians.

4. Recognize Indigenous People And Nations In All Sport Competition, and Continue To Grow Indigenous Events – Lacrosse is a shining example of this with the inclusion of Team Iroquois in both International and National competitions. It’s time that other sports, including hockey, take note of this and follow suit. Listen to the term First Nations. Say it out loud if you need to. Nation. Alongside this, continuing to grow and support Indigenous events such as the North American Indigenous Games (Call To Action #88) is crucial.

5. Time To Let Go, And Demand More – Coaches and athletes need eduction. Education in how to embrace and encourage diversity in all forms in sport, and how to effectively erase racism, homophobia, sexism, and oppression of all forms, which were caused by systems of power, many through Colonialism. We need to let go of the hyper-competitive, results driven, capitalist, hierarchy we’ve embraced for so long in sports. It’s ok to participate to have fun, and to simply be active. Lacrosse in its earliest form, the Creator’s Game, was viewed as medicine, as a spiritual activity. It was played for healing, to solve disputes, for social, and political reasons. It wasn’t played to inherently ‘be the best’ or to gain fame or fortune. At the heart of organizational sport, modern sport as we recognize it today, we all know the values and purpose of the games we play, but the long lasting systems of Colonialism, which were established to give power to one group of people, remain. We don’t need to gain power from sport, isolate others, and continue to perpetuate socioeconomic inequity. We don’t need to assert dominance over others through games that can have a healing outcome for those participating. Our systems are broken, and National and Provincial organizations need to look at their rules, governance, and structures, and see how they are contributing to these ongoing issues. They then need to educate parents, coaches, and athletes from the earliest ages to begin ending this cycle.

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