Canada | First among soccer nations

“The game of soccer is an institution in many of the native communities,” said Sonny Voyageur during the 2006 Musgamagw Cup, a First Nations–Bahá’í­ competition (“First Nations and Baha’i Youth Bond through Soccer,” 19 Sept 06). He adds that tribes early in the 20th century employed soccer—perhaps having gained knowledge of the rules via expatriate Europeans—as a way to congregate in the face of laws against traditional ceremonies.

Sonny Voyageur’s brother Pudlidi (Ivan Voyageur) says in e-mail correspondence that potlatches generally coincided with sporting contests at Alert Bay in the summers of his youth. But he could not confirm that soccer served as a long-standing tool of resistance. Similarly, Colin Jose, historian for the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a conversation Nov 6 that while First Nations communities certainly played soccer early on, “apart from that we know very little.”

True to Vancouver's free-spirited reputation, administrators of Pacific Spirit Regional Park at the University of British Columbia have made nude bathing an option. Pacific Spirit Regional Park

Generalizing about First Nations practice, of course, is perilous business. More than 600 First Nations governments exist in Canada, or a total of 756,700 people, according to the Assembly of First Nations. In British Columbia alone there are 198, with more than 30 native languages spoken. In what has been called the most complicated treaty negotiation in Canada’s history, aboriginal land rights and title still are being adjudicated with many native bands (see Justine Hunter, “Land-Claims Decision Could Rock Treaty Process,” Globe and Mail, Nov 5). And while four First Nations—Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh—have signed on as hosting partners of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, seeing the Games as an opportunity for brand building, others view the event “as a threat to dwindling resources and the beginning of the end for their traditional way of life” (Travis Lupick, “First Nations Divided Over 2010 Olympic Games,” The Georgia Straight, Nov 1).

Still, write Donald Reid and Sue Welke, aboriginal people “have had a great deal of difficulty gaining and holding the attention of the Canadian people.” If not ignored, native communities seem always vulnerable to misreading wherever interlopers have invaded and crushed indigenous practice. The value that native cultures give to the spoken word, for example—sometimes expressing itself as a “pensive delay” before speech—“has often been misinterpreted by Euro-Americans as an act of withdrawing. It has also created a stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans as silent and stoic people,” writes Grace Girard.

In the sphere of leisure, if First Nations people are seen to abandon traditional sports for ice hockey or soccer, for instance, they often are branded as cultural assimilators. Curiously, First Nations customs related to potlatch and recreation have historically been appropriated by whites to claim a more authentic version of reality. Native sports such as lacrosse and snowshoeing were adopted, writes Gillian Poulter, to build an idea of Canadian distinctiveness.

Historian Sharon Wall and others have documented the long-standing practice of “playing Indian” at summer camp. Such youth retreats in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada and the United States appropriated bogus aboriginal names and invented native ceremonies that said more about middle-class and upper-middle-class cultural aspirations than they did about authentic custom. Wall writes:

Page 3 of 5 | Previous page | Next page