Sport and Reconciliation
Indigenous people are reclaiming the meanings of cultural activities like sports.
Tom Longboat was a celebrated long-distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. In the early twentieth century, when foot races were extremely popular, Longboat set numerous world records, won major races in North America and Europe, and competed for Canada at the 1908 Olympic Games. The Onondaga athlete, who served as a distance runner during the First World War, has been recognized in Ontario with a day in his honour and across Canada with awards given in his name since 1951.
Yet, as Janice Forsyth notes in Reclaiming Tom Longboat: Indigenous Self-deter
mination in Canadian Sport, media portrayals of Longboat varied between admiration and disdain, with many reports based upon racialized stereotypes. Forsyth — herself the winner of a Tom Longboat Award — draws on research showing that Longboat was derided by some because “he made his own decisions about training, racing, and the conduct of his life” and thereby countered expectations of an Indigenous athlete.
Forsyth’s book is not so much about rehabilitating Longboat’s own reputation as it is about charting the history of the awards given in his name and the effects they have had for their recipients and other Indigenous people. She writes that many recipients “incorporated, resisted, challenged, or subverted the official meanings produced by government and sports officials, thereby making the awards their own.” In her efforts to help to reclaim the meanings of sport for Indigenous peoples as part of the ongoing work of reconciliation, Forsyth looks back to the use of sports and games at residential schools.