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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Sports and Reconciliation

Grappling with Canada’s past and ongoing colonisation of indigenous peoples has been a tough reality for many to face. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy. The TRC published a list of 94 calls to action that addressed many issues in our system in an effort to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. 87 through 91 of the calls to action were specific to sport in Canada:

87. We call upon all levels of government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, sports halls of fame, and other relevant organizations, to provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.

88. We call upon all levels of government to take action to ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and growth, and continued support for the North American Indigenous Games, including funding to host the games and for provincial and territorial team preparation and travel.

89. We call upon the federal government to amend the Physical Activity and Sport Act to support reconciliation by ensuring that policies to promote physical activity as a fundamental element of health and well-being, reduce barriers to sports participation, increase the pursuit of excellence in sport, and build capacity in the Canadian sport system, are inclusive of Aboriginal peoples.

90. We call upon the federal government to ensure that national sports policies, programs, and initiatives are inclusive of Aboriginal peoples, including, but not limited to, establishing:

i. In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, stable funding for, and access to, community sports programs that reflect the diverse cultures and traditional sporting activities of Aboriginal peoples.

ii. An elite athlete development program for Aboriginal athletes.

iii. Programs for coaches, trainers, and sports officials that are culturally relevant for Aboriginal peoples. iv. Anti-racism awareness and training programs.

91. We call upon the officials and host countries of international sporting events such as the Olympics, Pan Am, and Commonwealth games to ensure that Indigenous peoples’ territorial protocols are respected, and local Indigenous communities are engaged in all aspects of planning and participating in such events.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada recognized the important role that sport can play in reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples, as well as the important role it plays in supporting, empowering and uplifting indigenous communities.

Sport organisations need policies in place that support indigenous athletes, coaches and fans. The Coaches Association of Canada (CAC) has several initiatives with the Aboriginal Sport Circle:

  • The Aboriginal Coaching Modules (ACM), a training curriculum that reflects unique Aboriginal culture, values and lifestyles.

  • ACM Learning Facilitator Training Guidelines, these are to help Learning Facilitators deliver culturally relevant training experience.

  • Aboriginal Long-Term Participant Development, this is a roadmap for developing sport and physical activity among Aboriginal peoples (from Sport for Life)

One program that I am really fond of is a partnership with the Canada Games Council, where each province and territory has the opportunity to send two coaches of Aboriginal ancestry to the Canada Games in apprenticeship roles.

The Government of Canada recognized sport’s power to help uplift indigenous peoples with their Sport for Social Development in Indigenous Communities - Sport Support Program. In this program, sport for social development is “defined as the use of sport for social development for the purpose of achieving targeted social outcomes. The SSDIC component is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, which identified 4 key social development needs of Indigenous communities.

Those needs form the specific targeted social outcomes of the SSDIC component:

  • improved health, education, and employability; and

  • the reduction of at-risk behaviour.”

The North American Indigenous Games is an important part of uplifting indigenous communities and preserving indigenous cultures. The vision of the game is to improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples by supporting self-determined sports and cultural activities which encourage equal access to participation in the social / cultural / spiritual fabric of the community in which they reside and which respects Indigenous distinctiveness. Supporting these games are an essential way to move forward with reconciliation.

More regionally specific games like the New Brunswick Indigenous Summer Games are also important. I was lucky to attend the opening ceremonies of the Games in 2017 with a summer internship at Coach New Brunswick and be able to see the impact that these kinds of games can have on the community.

Sport is also an important aspect of any culture. One of Canada’s two official sports is lacrosse. It was first played by indigenous peoples. Making sure that we celebrate the importance of sports in our cultures, and the history of them, is essential.

Sport can have a social impact by helping us work through its colonial past, and help us forge a new relationship with Canada’s indigenous peoples. Sports can help lift up our Indigenous communities.


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