Sport serves as an important avenue to promote and celebrate indigenous culture, and it continues to play a vital role as the country takes steps toward reconciliation.
In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published a list of 94 calls to action to help advance reconciliation, including five that addressed sport. Progress has been made in recent years in response, including initiatives to connect Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, the education of Indigenous sport history, the inclusion of Indigenous voices and efforts to remove barriers to participation.
In an aim to build bridges through sport, the Fraser Valley Bandits of the Canadian Elite Basketball League unveiled a new alternate logo last week that was designed in partnership with the Qw’?ntl’en (Kwantlen) First Nation of Langley, BC
Kwantlen First Nation artist Jeff Dickson’s creation was inspired by the Indigenous history and geography of the Fraser Valley. He seized the opportunity to honor local indigenous culture and was pleased to work with a team that has reconciliation top of mind.
But along with highlighting local Indigenous culture, Dickson said the logo symbolizes a much larger commitment to Indigenous communities and the role sport plays within them on the path to reconciliation.
“The journey to Truth and Reconciliation will be a long trek. I hope this piece represents a visual cue that the Bandits can display as a symbol of their commitment to the First Peoples of our land and their pledge to support the development of Indigenous youth who love the game of basketball,” Dickson said.
His work is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Bandits and the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity & Recreation Council (I SPARC). Known as the Indigenous Basketball Collective, the partnership helps remove barriers by giving Indigenous basketball players and coaches opportunities to participate in training camps, competitions and workshops.
The team hosted an Indigenous youth camp on Saturday, with the Bandits coaching staff assisting with drills and mini-games.
Kwantlen First Nation artist Jeff Dickson also presented participants with shirts featuring his Bandits Indigenous Baksetball Collective logo. pic.twitter.com/O8MKaAaFKT
In another gesture of reconciliation through sport, the Southeast Mens’ Fastball League hosted a day of reconciliation games in Whitewood, Sask., last week.
Three First Nations teams played three non-First Nations teams, with everyone in attendance encouraged to wear orange in honor of residential school victims and survivors.
@softballsask @SoftballCanada TY to Southeast fastball league 4 hosting reconciliation games between 3 indigenous and 3 non-Indigenous teams. Small step in the 👍🏽 direction! Orange jerseys for each team & whoops! #fleming #roundlake #whitewood a> #kahkewistahaw #grenfell #cowessess pic.twitter.com/uNnJ3jqVmq
The symbolic color has also been donned on the NHL stage this season by the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens, with warmup jerseys designed by Indigenous artists. Kahnawake First Nation artist Thomas Deer created the Canadiens jersey for the team’s inaugural Indigenous Celebration Night in March, with a design concept in the spirit of peace, friendship and reconciliation.
The jersey features a Two Row Wampum, a symbol of peaceful coexistence with mutual respect between Indigenous and European peoples. The Canadiens auctioned off the jerseys to help support Indigenous community-driven initiatives, and the celebration night honored the diversity of Indigenous cultures while hosting chiefs from several First Nations.
The launching of the event was part of an effort to inspire change and make the sport more inclusive.
“At the beginning of the season, we made a commitment to take part in the reconciliation process by putting forward initiatives aimed at recognizing, honoring and supporting indigenous peoples,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said.
“We want to inspire positive change in terms of diversity and equity within our sport, both on and off the ice, as well as in the community, in order to provide all players and fans in an inclusive and welcoming environment, free from any form of racism or discrimination.”
Indigenous inclusivity at youth level
The NHL launched NHL Street in February, which addresses the TRC’s Call to Action No. 89 regarding the removal of barriers to participation. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke about the league’s recent efforts to increase Indigenous inclusivity at the youth level in April on the final “Hockey Night in Canada in Cree” show of the season.
“We understand there are barriers for entry into the game. It’s expensive. One of the things that we do try to bring to communities is street hockey,” Bettman said.
“We’re exploring ways to deploy NHL Street hockey in the indigenous communities as the program we’re rolling out rolls out throughout North America.”
With the same goal in mind, Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC hosted over 100 local Indigenous youth in a pre-match jamboree at BC Place on June 4 that included coaching from the Whitecaps, BC Soccer, I SPARC and the Hope and Health organization — a community-driven group that aims to utilize sport as a tool for reconciliation.
The event took place before Vancouver’s second annual Indigenous Peoples Match, which featured a commemorative Whitecaps logo designed by xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) artist Debra Sparrow. The club hosted Indigenous athletes and members of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, with Indigenous groups honored pre-match.
Hope and Health executive director Deana Gill described the match as “one of many impactful ways that the club acts on their commitment to reconciliation on a continuous basis.”
Telling the stories of Indigenous athletes
The connection between sport and Indigenous peoples in Canada has been highlighted through the responses to the TRC’s Call to Action No. 87, which called for “public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Canadian Heritage made an investment of $560,000 over three years to support the BC Sports Hall of Fame’s digitization of their Indigenous Sport Gallery — providing worldwide access to the largest gallery dedicated to Indigenous sport.
Canada’s sport minister Pascale St-Onge called it an inspiring endeavor that will “increase awareness and understanding of traditional Indigenous sports and games.”
The gallery highlights the accomplishments and contributions of indigenous athletes, coaches and builders.
Recent efforts at advancing reconciliation through sport have culminated in the first Indigenous-led Olympic bid proposal, with the goal of bringing the 2030 Olympics and Paralympics to Vancouver and Whistler, BC
WATCH l How an Indigenous led bid wants to make Vancouver 2030 a reality:
The Lil̓wat7úl (Líl̓wat), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations signed a historic partnership in February with the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, City of Vancouver and the Municipal Resort Municipality of Whistler .
The move addresses the TRC’s Call to Action No. 91, which calls upon officials and host countries of international sporting events to ensure that “local indigenous communities are engaged in all aspects of planning and participating.”