Publisher’s note: In 2021, X University was the name used to refer to a downtown university in Toronto, Canada, in protest of the university’s official name whose namesake was widely understood as having had a central role in Canada’s residential school system. Later that same year,the university accepted 22 recommendations of the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Forceit had assembled, one of which was the recommendation to change the institution’s official name (without vilification nor vindication of the individual after whom the institution had initially been named). At time of posting, the new name had not yet been decided upon.
Lynn F. Lavallee, PhD
This literature review on gender and Indigenous sport was conducted for the Gender+ Equity in Sport in Canada Research Hub to serve as a foundational report for strategic research priorities development.
The review took place from June 2020 to October 2020.
Results (n=117) were generally limited by year 2016-2020; however, given the paucity of Indigenous women/girls/2 spirit/trans (WG2ST) sport literature specific to Canada, seminal pieces older than 2016 were identified by the research lead and included in this review. The search term yielded many results from Australia. While this literature may be explored at a later date it was excluded for this review. The search included terminology used in the United States to describe Indigenous peoples; however, only the literature that included Indigenous peoples from Canada was included in the review. Finally, some of the Canadian Indigenous specific literature that was inclusive of all genders was included if specific findings about women and girls was included. Finally, a cursory grey literature review was conduct via Google search for material from 2016 onward that included some of the search terms noted above, as well as specific communities and organizations known to the research lead.
Subsequent to the exclusions noted above, the results yielded 35 journal articles, books/book chapters, reports and media articles.
- There are a few researchers who have focused on the history of women and girls Indigenous sport; however, there is no historical literature reflecting 2-spirit and/or transgender involvement in sport.
- Health promotion was the focus of most of the literature found where the importance of looking at sport and physical activity from an Indigenous lens is fundamental. Studies exploring the importance of sport or physical activity on behavioural risk factors and obesity are being replaced by decolonizing approaches to research that explore the ability of sport to have holistic impacts on health.
- Literature focusing on participation in sport for Indigenous women and girls highlights the importance of sport in resisting anti-Indigenous racism, colonialism and patriarchy.
- Indigenous women are leading remarkable advances to Indigenous sport across Canada and impacting sport policy and practice at community, municipal, provincial/territorial and national levels.
- Sport can be a mechanism for activism and Indigenous resurgence.
- Anti-Indigenous racism and patriarchy are reported experiences in sport environments
- Indigenous culture and ceremony are important consideration to be imbedded in sport delivery and research.
- Role models are woven into the experiences of Indigenous peoples in sport.
- There is a favouring of boys and men in Indigenous sport.
- Indigenous WGWST are still invisible but not absent from sport.
Top Research Gaps
- In general, there is a paucity of literature focusing on Indigenous GW2ST in sport.
- There is a complete absence of literature focusing on Indigenous 2-spirit/transgender people.
- Activism through sport and physical activity can be further explored, both for historical accounts and current initiatives happening across the country.
- The involvement of Indigenous GW2ST people in sports across Canada needs to be further explored with respect to enhancing sport participation.
- Indigenous GW2ST leadership in Indigenous sport governance is not addressed in the academic literature.
Application: Priority Questions or Next Steps
- Sociological and/or historical research can explore Indigenous 2ST involvement in sport.
- What are the experiences of 2-spirit and/or transgender children, youth and adults in sport?
- Indigenous sport governance across Canada, specifically involvement of GW2ST leadership.
- How can more Indigenous GW2ST be encouraged to become involved and stay involved in Indigenous sport governance?
- What are the barriers or challenges to involvement of Indigenous GW2ST in Indigenous sport governance?
- Evidenced-based research employing Indigenous methodologies to explore the impacts of sport for Indigenous WG2ST.
- What is the value of sport from Indigenous GW2ST perspectives?
- How can awareness of GW2ST Indigenous athletes and role models be profiled?
- Experiences of anti-Indigenous racism and misogyny in sport.
- What are the experiences of GW2ST athletes/participants with anti-Indigenous racism and misogyny?
- What can be done to address anti-Indigenous racism and patriarchy in sport for Indigenous GW2ST?
This literature review is a foundational document for the E-Alliance Gender+ Equity in Sport in Canada Research Hub. Lead by Lynn Lavallee, the research team searched Scholars Portal, Search Everything Portal and Google Scholar and grey literature sources via Google for research related to Indigenous women, girls, 2-spirit and transgender involved in sport. Key findings that emerged included the paucity of research that addresses gender or women and girls related to sport in Canada. We frame this within the Anishinaabemowin term, bangiiwagizi which translates into very little or few. Although there was little literature, the term bangiiwagizi recognizes that what does exist is important and the fact that there is very little also carries a message.
The literature found addresses some of the historical contributions of women and girls in sport. Several sociologists and historians have been working in this field for a few decades and there are few more junior colleagues making contributions in the field.
The literature on sport as a health promotion strategy appears to be moving away from a deficit, obesity framework to one that looks at what sport can offer from a holistic perspective based on Indigenous ways of knowing.
We also identified key gaps, such as the almost complete omission of 2-spirit and/or transgender perspectives in Indigenous sport. There is also a need to explore misogyny and patriarch in the governance of Indigenous sport in Canada and the dominance of men in Indigenous sport leadership.
Based on the results from our review, future gender+ equity in sport in Canada research should focus on exploring 2-spirit and transgender experiences in sport and elucidate some of the reasons why this gap exists. In addition, communities themselves should identify the research needs related to Indigenous women in sport. There are Indigenous sport leaders who could gather together to provide such a framework.
Sport for Indigenous peoples carries tremendous value reflected historically in traditional games, such as stickball (lacrosse) to current multisport events, such as the Arctic Winter Games and the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). Sport played a significant role in residential schools, both as a tool of assimilation and as a brief escape, particularly for children who excelled athletically. Sport continues to play an important role in Indigenous peoples lives across Canada which is demonstrated in the commitment from Indigenous sport leaders and champions that deliver sport programming in their communities and in national level commissions and reports.
Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada spoke of finding solace in sport while attending residential school from 1951-1964 (Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame, 2018). It was undoubtedly his love of sport and community that influenced the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action to be inclusive of specific calls related to sport and reconciliation (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015). Calls 87 to 91 address providing public education that tells the story of Indigenous athletes to calling on government to ensure funding for Indigenous sport and athlete development and growth. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples also addressed the need to support sport and recreation in Indigenous communities (Library and Archives Canada, 1996).
Recognition of girls, women, and LGBT persons in sport is an important gender equity issue and the same holds true in the Indigenous sport world. There are few Indigenous women and girl elite athletes, there are more resources for Indigenous boys and men and within the governance of Indigenous sport, misogyny, and patriarchy is evident (Forsyth & Paraschak, 2008).
This review of literature explored material specific to Indigenous girls, women, 2-spirit and transgender (GW2ST) within the Canadian context. The review set out to take a broad lens of sport, not focusing on a specific sport discipline or area (e.g., participation, development, policy, or impacts of sport) but sought to be inclusive of any work related to Indigenous GW2ST in sport. The outcome of this review of literature was to identify key findings, explore gaps and identify future directions for research.
Literature searches for Indigenous content typically benefits from seeking material beyond the traditional academic search via university libraries. While Google Scholar has assisted with the ability to find quality research and resources related to Indigenous content, there are multiple reasons why academic literature searches fail to uncover Indigenous research and literature. Of course, university libraries have developed excellent resources on how to search for Indigenous content and the databases included in such searches attempt to be more inclusive of Indigenous based journals and publishers. For instance, many academic libraries reference the First Nations Periodical Index (FIRST NATIONS PERIODICAL INDEX, n.d.). This is a searchable database that has approximately 20 Indigenous journals, newspapers and magazines with Canadian content. However, not all the journals have content that is available and the index does not appear to be maintained.
Even prior to articles being published in journals that may be searchable in academic libraries, the topics and methodologies that ‘make it’ into peer-reviewed journals typically have to meet a standard of the journal that often is not open to Indigenous ways of knowing, Indigenous theory and methodologies, unless it bridges the knowledge gap to western science. Further, it is an ethical requirement to disseminate knowledge back to community, as noted in article 9.7 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (Government of Canada, 2019) and many academic publications are not accessible. When such publications are accessible, they are typically not written for community audiences. When it comes to books, peer-reviewed or not, cost can sometimes be an issue further limiting accessibility, so reports written for community are prioritized. Thus, journal articles and books are often not the first dissemination products by researchers working in an ethical way with Indigenous communities. Finally, many communities are taking it upon themselves to conduct their own quality research to ensure the principles of ownership, control, access and possession are upheld. Intellectual property is an unresolved issue related to Indigenous research. Academic researchers often have intellectual property requirements that counter community ownership and control. Communities that are aware of these intellectual property issues are hesitant to have research done by academics who are driven to publish in journals and write books.
Keeping in mind all of the factors that can limit Indigenous literature reviews, this review was carried out and did glean some important future considerations. The review was carried out on the Ryerson University library portal and included searches on the Search Everything Portal, as well as specific search on the Scholars Portal Journal. The advanced search function was used to include all of the key words identified. With respect to the population terms, although Indigenous is the current preferred term within the Canadian context, the term Aboriginal, First Nations, Metis and Inuit capture literature that used these subject terms. Of course, the term Aboriginal captures literature specific to Australia where the same term is/was used to describe Indigenous peoples. In addition, the Indigenous terms used in the United States were included to ensure literature that may be inclusive of Indigenous peoples of North America/Turtle Island could be considered. The subject terms were expanded to include physical activity and recreation given the paucity of research found specifically focusing on sport. The search was generally limited from 2016-present, however seminal articles older than 2016 were identified and included in this review. Material that focus on sport, physical activity and/or recreation and Indigenous GW2ST was captured during the initial round of searches. Some of the Canadian Indigenous specific literature that was inclusive of all genders was included so a subsequent review could assess if GW2ST was included as a variable in the article.
A subsequent Google Scholar Search was conducted using the same criteria as above. Many of the articles found were duplication from the academic search; however, some reports were found to supplement the academic literature. Finally, a cursory grey literature review was conduct via Google search that included some of the search terms noted above, as well as specific communities and organizations known to the research lead.
After the second round, a total of 117 articles were reviewed. The literature from countries other than Canada were removed but articles that offered a comparison between Canada and another country or involved Canadian Indigenous people were included. Subsequent to the exclusions noted above, the results yielded 35 journal articles, books/book chapters, and reports.
Current State of Knowledge
Bangiiwagizi is Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe language) and translates into “there is a little bit” or “few of them” (The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, n.d.). Bangiiwagizi described the review of literature with respect to Indigenous women, girls, 2-spirit and transgender (WG2ST) peoples of Canada. Given the paucity of literature, the search was conducted without exclusions of dates, except for general Google search where findings were restricted 2016 to present.
The literature found was organized based on topic and the following themes emerged:
- Historical literature (8)
- Health promotion
- Body image (3)
- Obesity focused (4)
- Holistic health focused (7)
- Participation in Sport (6)
- Activism through sport and physical activity (2)
- Athletic injury (1)
- Bullying (1)
- Queer, 2 spirit focused (1)
- Specific sports, programs, and/or people (3)
History of Indigenous Women in Sport
There were eight (8) articles included in this review of literature that focused on or substantially included historical accounts of Indigenous women and/or girls in sport.
Victoria Paraschak was one of the first authors of Indigenous sport in Canada. As a non-Indigenous person involved in Indigenous sport in the North West Territories she saw the strength of Indigenous women in sport and recreation (Paraschak, 1995). The catalyst for this article was Paraschak’s believe that academics and the public knew very little about Indigenous women’s involvement in sport and recreation. She profiled the Good Woman Contest in the Northern Games and that Indigenous women were involved in Eurocanadian sports naming some athletes like middle distance runner Angela Chalmers, 1994 Commonwealth Games gold medal winner.
Another early article focused on Indigenous imagery in sport, specifically mascots and the devaluing, oppression, erasure and sexualization of women (King, 2006). While this article focused on Native Americans (Indigenous peoples in the United States), the article was included given the overlap of this topic for Indigenous peoples in Canada and the relevance of this topic today given that mascots and anti-Indigenous names for sports teams are only now changing (for example Edmonton Eskimos name change in July 2020). King (2006) highlights some of the imagery and names used in the past, such as the Brown Squaw’s at Saint Bonaventure University named in the early 1960’s and removed the derogatory term squaw in 1992.
Delsahut and Terret (2014) synthesized historical and cultural anthropological literature on the practices of American Indian women of North America pre and post-colonization to the 1890’s. The article title is somewhat misleading with the use of the term First Nations which suggests a focus solely on First Nations people in Canada. The term First Nations is not used in the United States and the article itself refers to Indigenous women in both Canada and the United States, including Metis women. The focus of the article is on traditional Indigenous games being acculturated with modern sports and recounts some of the activities for girls and women that were not customary for non-Indigenous women. These included running that was connected to ceremony, ball games, swimming across rivers, and warrior activities like wrestling. The Fort Shaw Boarding School (or residential school) in Montana boasted a women’s basketball team and “Rezball” (p. 987) was used as a descriptor for how Indigenous women played the game aggressively. Rez is an abbreviation for reserve or reservation. Delsahut and Terret noted that the ability to participate in institutional collective sports was a strong indicator of being successfully assimilated and civilized.
Welch et al. (2019) also reflected on women playing stickball in the late nineteenth century and conducted a qualitative study with Cherokee women who played stickball in the early 2000’s. As articulated by Delsahut and Terret (2014), Welch et al. also described stickball as a traditional game that was sacred and involved spiritual rituals which led to stickball being called the Creator’s game (also known as lacrosse). Thematic analysis of the interviews with women who played stickball in the early 2000’s identified three themes, 1) female kinship, 2) proving they belong, and 3) cultural connections. The Creator’s game is still a sport that Indigenous women play across North America. A future grey literature search specifically focusing on Indigenous women and lacrosse may garner further information.
M. Ann Hall has also written historical accounts on Indigenous women in sport. The new edition of her book, The Girls and the Game: A History of Women’s Sport in Canada (Hall, 2016) added a chapter on early sport activities of Indigenous women. This work was also reflected in her chapter - Toward a history of Aboriginal women in Canadian sport – in the edited book – Aboriginal Peoples and Sport in Canada: Historical Foundations and Contemporary Issues (Forsyth & Giles, 2012). Hall’s comprehensive work recounts some of the early traditional games and sports detailed by other authors ((Delsahut & Terret, 2014; Paraschak, 1995), Indigenous women’s involvement in fur trading activities, gendered work in residential schools, and highlighted some of the Indigenous competitive athletes – Sharon and Shirley Firth, Roseanne Allen, Martha Benjamin, Phyllis Bomberry and Waneek Horn-Miller to name a few.
Forsyth, Lodge-Gagne and Giles (2016) wrote about how Indigenous athletes in the Maritimes brokered their involvement in Canadian sport. The article explored the experiences of nine (four women) elite athletes from the Maritimes who won the Tom Longboat Award – Cynthia Gabriel, Marlene Ward, Carole Polchies, Sherri Paul-Bartlett). The award honours the legacy of Tom Longboat, a long-distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. Tom Longboat won the 1907 Boston Marathon. This qualitative study positioned with a postcolonial theoretical framework involved interviews with the athletes and explored archival information. The findings of the research specific to women included being called a squaw while competing, identity being questioned because they did not look Indigenous, and struggling to gain access to resources while competing compared to men.
In response to Canada’s sesquicentennial and Call to Action #87 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Paraschak (2019) reported on a project that aimed to “provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015, p. 10). Paraschak positioned this project from a strengths-and-hope perspective and garnered the support of sport historians to reach the goal of profiling over 150 Indigenous athletes in a Wikipedia project. By the end of 2017 there were 176 entries, with twenty-one First Nations women, six Metis women and no Inuit women. The women represented sixteen sports. There were some challenges identified with the project including finding publicly available information to legitimize the entries and some data not being made public such as the interviews Janice Forsyth conducted with Tom Longboat Award winners. Forsyth’s book was just published, (Forsyth, 2020) so perhaps further entries can be included in this Wikipedia project. Another challenge identified by Paraschak were the Wikipedia “gatekeepers” (p. 219) challenging the entries based on some athletes not being notable enough, such as Carole Polchies and Joy Spear Chief-Morris.
Health promotion was the focus in fourteen (14) articles found with seven (7) of the articles taking a cultural and/or holistic perspective while exploring the impacts of sport and physical activity. Three (3) of the studies spoke to body image and obesity was the foundational approach in four (4) of the studies, two of which were the same author and study.
Lavallée (2008) reported specific findings related to four Indigenous women who participated in a martial arts programme at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto. The women identified as Anishiinaabe, Cree, and Metis. Sharing circles and an arts-based method, Anishnaabe Symbol-Based Reflection captured the women’s stories about identity and self-worth and healing through sport. The study reported holistic findings related to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. A decade later, Ferguson, et al. (2019) explored the experiences of sixteen (16) Indigenous women athletes through sharing circles and symbol-based reflection noting the importance of sport, not only to physical health, but mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Five components further elicited from this study were community support, personal accomplishment, persistent growth, athletic excellence and humble recognition.
McGuire-Adams and Giles (2018) furthered the notion of holistic impacts of sport, aligning decolonization with the personal stories from four Indigenous women. Through storytelling and an Anishinaabeg informed thematic analysis three themes emerged, 1) running as ceremony and healing, 2) significance of running as a group, and 3) running for health and personal goals. The link to ceremony was described by one woman as similar to preparing for Sundance, enduring the weather and praying along the journey.
Similar to McGuire and Giles (2018), Cooper and Driedger (2019) position their study as creating a safe space as part of a decolonizing 7-week program for First Nations and Metis women and girls. The researchers noted active colonialism and the negative effects on physical and psychological health. While not specific to sport or physical activity, the program incorporated some physical activity and nutritional instruction. The overall finding demonstrated the need for activities to allow space for testimony and witnessing Indigenous experience and expectation.
Lavallee (2009) and Hanna (2009) completed community level reports validating the positive holistic impacts of sport, recreation and physical activity reporting findings specific to girls. Lavallee (2009) explored the health and social impacts of the 2008 North American Indigenous Games. A gender analysis of the data noted 46% of the total number of registered athletes for the games (N=3269) identified as female. Of the 14 sports, volleyball had the highest number of girls with 69% of the volleyball athletes identifying as female, followed by swimming (60%), softball (57%), taekwondo (52%), badminton (51%), soccer (51%) and canoeing (47%). Girls were under-represented in wrestling (15%), boxing (22%), golf (27%), archery (3%) and rifle (39%). Taekwondo and boxing were cancelled just before the games. Lavallee (2009) noted that future organizers of the NAIG could ensure inclusion of sports with higher involvement by girls. Lavallee (2009) did not conduct a gender analysis for the survey responses due to the lack of statistical significance to further explore gender as a variable but did note that future surveys should include transgender as a category. This study noted that the importance of sport role models for Indigenous women and girls. Hanna (2009) explored the importance of promoting, developing and sustaining sports, recreation and physical activity in British Columbia. Hanna reported that women and girls reported participating in basketball, soccer and softball but similar to Lavallee (2009), Hanna also recognized the need for more women sport mentors, particularly related to high performance sports.
Johnson et al., (2020) studied the psychological well-being and multicultural adjustment for two First Nations sisters who had to relocate to participate in elite sports. Conversational interviews and Photovoice elicited five themes, interconnected webs of support, managing emotional challenges, progressing during setbacks, finding comfort in new environments and maintaining cultural connections. A key recommendation of this research was the requirement for a more robust support network and nurturing environment to flourish in mainstream sport.
Bruner and Chad (2013) position their study related to the concerns of obesity, type-2 diabetes and lack of physical activity. This mixed methods design included completion of an activity questionnaire with 58 women and 19 of the 58 participated in a one-on-one interview to further explore attitudes and beliefs. The most frequently reported activity was walking followed by housework, volleyball, running, dance and basketball. Some of the barriers related to physical activity were lack of time, being too tired and childcare responsibilities. Recommendations included creating activities that involve multiple generations and providing childcare.
A doctoral thesis focusing on physical activity and diet of women in a Woodland Cree community was identified in this literature search (Bruner, 2008). This study involved both men and women, however the title of the thesis, specifically reported on the findings for women. After careful review, it appears that the study by Bruner and Chad (2013) is from the doctoral thesis of Bruner (2008). A recommendation for further literature review includes exploring theses specifically focusing on Indigenous WG2ST and sport to potential capture graduate work that was not published in other forms.
The two other studies classified in this literature review under obesity and health promotion are from the same author (Darroch & Giles, 2016; Darroch & Giles, 2017) with slightly different emphases. While both studies position obesity as a risk factor, the latter study noted a post-colonial discourse feminist analysis used to explore physical activity barriers for First Nations and Metis women in Ottawa. The two studies appeared to involve the same participants with slightly different framing of results and the latter study included an additional 14 service providers. The methodological approach for both studies was community-based and discourse analysis, with the former being framed as postcolonial feminist discourse analysis. Both studies recommend the need for women to be involved in the development of physical activity programming and resources for pregnant and postnatal Indigenous women.
Although not specific to sport, body image research is often closely tied to sport research and sport researchers work. McHugh and Kowalski (2011) explored seven Indigenous high school girls perceptions of body image in a feminist participatory action research project in Saskatoon. Process objectives were explored throughout the delivery of a community developed program aimed at having a positive impact on body image. The program included promoting positive body images, a Girls’ Club that focused on engaging in physical activities, self-expression activities such as ‘Body Talk’ sessions and a writing group. The study found there is a need for programs that support positive body image but such programs need to be developed with Indigenous girls.
McHugh et al. (2014) furthered her research with eight (8) young Indigenous women in Alberta in a qualitative content analysis to understand the experiences of body pride. Five themes emerged highlighting the meaning of body pride, specifically, 1) accept everything about your body, 2) who you are and how you show it, 3) connecting to culture, 4) being healthy, and 4) being thankful to be Native.
McHugh’s research seemed to shift from body image to body pride which is also reflected in the work of Coppola (2017) noting the shift of positive body image being the absence of negative body image to “a unique and multifaceted construct” (p. 4). Coppola’s study included eight (8) young Indigenous men (4) and women (4) age 20-25 in Alberta. This qualitative study included one-on-one interviews and photographs or images that described body pride. The themes that emerged from this study were, 1) your mind, your spirit, your body, 2) it’s a practice, 3) learned from my culture, 4) getting caught up in the western worlds, and 5) powerful. The research suggested that Indigenous men and women have similar experiences of positive body image including being powerful as related to ceremony and culture.
Six (6) studies explored sports participation or non-health related experiences in sport or physical activity.
Paraschak and Forsyth's (2011) qualitative study involved one-on-one interviews with nine (9) of thirteen (13) delegates who attending a national roundtable on Aboriginal women in Canadian sport in 2008. The purpose of the roundtable was to discuss the importance of sport in their lives and identify conditions that enable and constrain their ability to contribute to sport development. Themes that emerged from the interviews included - Working to Fit In - reflected in the women’s involvement in mainstream sport, both as women and being Indigenous. The women also noted the challenges with gendered work patterns and unequal distribution of labour at home limiting their options for employment. A second theme - Real Work of Volunteering – demonstrated the demands of volunteer work in Indigenous sport and the need to volunteer so their children could have access to sport.
In response to Shawn Wilson's (2008) work on Indigenous methodologies and relational accountability, Halas wrote an open letter to the Indigenous youth whom she worked with over the course of her career. Halas’ autoethnography reflected on how the youths’ personal narratives influenced her own thinking about race, whiteness and equity. The goal of Halas’ article was to inspire other physical educators to create more inclusive and culturally affirming climates for Indigenous youth. Key points Halas makes are that Indigenous youth want to be involved in physical activities in their schools and communities and their parents, families and friends help them be active. Similar to the findings by Paraschak and Forsyth (2011) “fitting in” was articulated as a challenge and racism was ingrained as a part of Indigenous youth’ lives in sport and physical activity. This study is included in this review of literature given some of the stories shared regarding girls in sport. Halas noted being surprised that a number of girls reported positive male role models who got them involved in sports. Another story shared that some girls were not confident to wear the gym shorts and t-shirts and/or not comfortable changing in public. Halas noted that some girls shared stories of boys typically being better athletes with teachers favouring boys over girls in sporting events
A post-colonial feminist participatory action research approach was used by Hayhurst et al. (2015) to study sport, gender and development in the after school Because We’re Girls program at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society. Through interviews and photovoice activities shared in a sharing circle, the young women told stories of stereotyping, racism and gender inequities experienced on a daily basis. The theme, “I want to come here to prove them wrong” (Hayhurst et al., 2015, p. 962) was seen as a way of resisting stereotypes through recreation. The researchers summarize by positioning recreation as a way to decolonize and model self-determination.
The Because We’re Girls program was part of a subsequent article by Hayhurst, Giles, & Wright (2016) that examined this program along with a similar program – Role Models and Leaders Australia. The findings from the original research were shared along with the findings from the program in Australia. While this article reiterates the positive outcome of the programs, specifically that they might help participants challenge racist and sexist stereotypes, sport for development as a neocolonial tool valuing capitalism and encouraging success based on Eurocentric values is offered as a critique.
Statistics Canada’s report on physical activity and sport among Aboriginal children and youth reported specific findings for girls (Smith et al., 2010). Quantitative analysis of the 2006 Aboriginal Peoples Survey captured First Nations (off-reserve), Inuit and Metis children’s participation in sport. The total of 170,000 children from across Canada age 6-14 were included in the analysis. The analysis found the odds of boys aged 6-14 participating in sports on a weekly basis was almost 80% higher compared with girls of the same age. However, boys were just as likely as girls to participate in cultural activities.
Giles (2012) took a historical account of women and girl’s participation in the Dene Games and remarked on the exclusion of girls and women, particularly as related to their menstrual cycle. As First Nations people, the Dene traditional territory includes parts of the northern western provinces extending into the territories. The Dene Games, created in 1977 are regional games that bring in traditional activities such as axe and spear throwing, bannock making, tea boiling, tug-of-war, Dene baseball and log splitting. Giles (2012) interviewed eighty-eight children, youth, adults and elders in 2004 at the Arctic Winter Games to explore why girls are often discouraged from participating in the Dene games. The sacredness of menstruation for girls and women and the ceremony that accompanies a young woman’s first cycle was shared by the participants. Giles further reports on gender inequity related to the Dene Games such as women not being “as good as men” (p. 152). In conclusion, Giles notes that while there may be valid cultural reasons for girls and women to be excluded, patriarchal control remains a possibility.
Activism in Sport
A grey literature search produced materials categorized as activism. Likely more material could be found with a more robust literature search that includes looking specifically for activist work from key individuals in Canada. Some of this activist work relates to advancing sport for Indigenous peoples, while others involve physical activity to bring attention to other causes, such as the water walks.
IndigenACTION was an initiative developed by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games (Indigneous Wellness Group & Assembly of First Nations, 2012). The intent of the initiative was to carry the energy from the Olympic Games to Indigenous communities across Canada. Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller from Kahnawake was the first ambassador for the initiative. A report related to the development of IndigenACTION and roundtables held across Canada notes the connection between sport, political activism and traditional knowledge and highlights women’s water walks. The first Women’s Water Walk occurred in April 2003 to bring awareness to the waters being polluted. The reason these walks are specific to women relates to traditional teachings in some Indigenous cultures that women care for the water. Since 2003 Women’s Water Walks occur regularly and go largely unnoticed by mainstream society.
A future direction for research is to explore Indigenous women leaders, such as Waneek and others who have used sport and physical activity as a form of activism.
Another roundtable also noted as part of a research study earlier in the Participation section of this review was Moving Forward: A National Roundtable on Aboriginal Women in Sport held in 2008 (Forsyth & Paraschak, 2008). This was a “closed door” (p. 4) session with invitations to 12 Indigenous women leading sport and recreation in their communities. With the inclusion of the authors and one observer, the participants represented five (5) provinces (BC, SK, MB, ON, NL) and two (2) territories (YT, NT). Sport Canada and the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS) supported the roundtable. The goals of the roundtable were, 1) to discuss the importance of sport in their lives and explore the supports and barriers to participation, 2) identify strategies to enhance “Aboriginal female” participation in sport, and 3) to raise public awareness of these issues with the production of a final report. The report highlighted strengths, barriers and opportunities related to increasing participation, capacity, interaction and excellence. Some of the strengths included networking, strong women role models, culture and governance. While the strengths were also identified as barriers, further challenges included sexism, patriarchy, nepotism, lateral violence, and racism. The report identified next steps such as forming an Indigenous women’s collective, future research to collect and analyze data deemed important by the collective and develop strong linkages with allied organizations. There does not appear to be a collective that was developed from this roundtable. Some of the other future recommendations included:
- create awareness of Indigenous women in sport and recreation through public promotion
- increase opportunities for dialogue, information sharing and action
- build family activities into the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG)
- diversify the content and format of the CAAWS leadership and training programs
- succession planning for Indigenous provincial and national bodies, including looking at governance of these bodies where terms of leadership are too long, and turnover of others is too high
One article was found exploring ‘sex-based’ difference in concussion knowledge and attitudes in Ontario First Nations hockey athletes between the ages of 10 and 18 years (Hunt et al., 2019). A pen-and-paper survey exploring knowledge, attitude and reporting of concussions was administered to 75 voluntary participants at a provincial hockey tournament. Sixty-one percent of the research participants were girls. More girls reported never having experienced a concussion (74%) compared to boys (59%). While less than half of all participants were able to correctly identify some of the signs and symptoms of concussions, several of the symptoms varied between girls and boys. Girls more frequently incorrectly identified breathing difficulties as a symptom of concussion compared to boys. There were no other statistical differences in the attitudes and reporting behaviour responses. It was recommended that concussion education should be tailored for Indigenous children, as well as distinctly for boys and girls.
Bullying in Sport
There was one article found that explored young Indigenous women’s experiences of bullying in team sports (Kentel & McHugh, 2015). Eight young women living in Edmonton participated in one-on-one semi-structured interviews focused on gathering participants understanding and experiences with bullying within their team sport activities. Mean mugging was a term that emerged as a theme describing the menacing facial expression meant to make someone feel bad about themselves. Other forms of bullying included speaking rudely and emotionally hurting someone, physical threats, and gossiping. Bullying was seen to be very frequent and had an impact beyond sport. The article also highlighted ways in which bullying might be addressed by coaches actively addressing behaviour and carrying out team building activities that discourage bullying.
Queer, 2-Spirit, Transgender
There was no literature found that specifically identified 2-spirt or transgender Indigenous peoples in sport. The only article found was a creative historical account by Brown (2020) of an essay and other work by poet, writer, activist and performer, Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), a “Mohawk princess and Victorian New Woman” (p. 137). Brown explored Johnson narrative of paddling on the Grand River noting that while Johnson’s writing is not identified as a source of queer discourse, Johnson’s challenging of heteropatriarchy with erotic canoe poetry and the account that she failed to marry indicates her queerness.
Indigenous Athletes, Sports and Programs
An initial grey literature search via Google identified specific people and sports, recreation and physical activity programming for Indigenous women and girls. A further grey literature search that includes combing specific websites and searches for individuals can likely find more materials. However, for this literature review the following materials are shared.
There are notable Indigenous athletes that are profiled in the media. One such athletes is Waneek Horn-Miller. In 2019,Waneek Horn-Miller was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of her athletic career in water polo, winning gold at the 1999 Pan American Games and being the first female Haudenosaunee athlete to compete in the Olympics at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games (Cleary, 2019). Waneek has been involved in advancing sport for Indigenous peoples in Canada for decades. Future literature views could explore many of these activities, such her activism work that has brought attention to Indigenous struggles while encouraging physical activity and sport.
The North American Indigenous Games are a multisport event for Indigenous youth across Canada and the United States. The first games were held in 1990 and occur about every three years. Often there is media coverage of the event. In July 2017 the NAIG was held in Toronto and the Globe and Mail covered a story on the popularity of Lacrosse for Haudenosaunee people and how women were originally prohibited from playing (Brady, 2017). The July 2017 NAIG marked the first women’s Lacrosse games with Chief Ava Hill remarking, “You will inspire all the young girls watching” (para 19).
In 2011 the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Physical Activity and Recreation Committee and the Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Issue Group commissioned a report exploring best practices for Indigenous child and youth physical activity programming (Johnson Research Inc., 2011). The report profiled activities across the provinces and territories. Specific programming for girls were identified, including You Go Girl in Newfoundland. You Go Girl is a program delivered by the Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Circle of Newfoundland and Labrador (ASRCNL) designed for Indigenous girls ages 8-12. The program incorporates culture and structured and unstructured physical activity. On the Move is another program for girls age 9-18 delivered by the Aboriginal Sports Circle of Prince Edward Island. This program is specifically targeting inactive girls and young women and focuses on health education, physical activity and weight loss. The need for programs designed specifically for girls was identified by Klubs for Kids at Millbrook First Nation Health Centre and Sport Nova Scotia with the development of girl-specific, afterschool program. In New Brunswick, Building Opportunities Opening Student’s Tomorrows (BOOST) also designed a specific Girls Club that involved extracurricular activities and afterschool programming while addressing culture and physical activity. Six Nations Parks and Recreation Department and Alberta Future Leaders Program also noted the importance of addressing girl-specific programming due to girls dropping out of physical activity programming around puberty. The response was a Girls Only Drop-In and specific programming to address their specific needs. This report identified delivery of physical activity programming for older girls in particular, needs to be designed specifically for the needs of these young women. There are no programs identified in this report addressing needs of 2-spirit or transgender children.
The grey literature could be further examined to identify specific programming that addresses the needs of Indigenous 2-spirit, transgender, girls and women. This further search would benefit from moving beyond searching on-line and connect with Indigenous communities delivering sport and physical activity programming.
Discussion: Gaps and Future Directions
While the literature on Indigenous WG2ST in sport is limited, this review of literature helped identify limitations, existing gaps and future directions.
Indigenous GW2ST gathering to capture current needs and recommendations from community is warranted. In consideration of the lack of literature, the limited number of researchers and academics that have focused on various topics, and the ways in which researchers are required to ethically engage with Indigenous communities, a key recommendation of this review is to bring together Indigenous GW2ST leaders across Canada to identify the areas that community deems important. The 2008 Roundtable on Aboriginal Women in Sport (Forsyth & Paraschak, 2008) identified future recommendations, most of which do not appear to have been addressed. However, this Roundtable identified areas that required further exploration. Bringing together Indigenous scholars and leaders once again in a more inclusive way, allowing scholars who have been working in this field for decades to mutually exchange knowledge with emerging scholars is a recommended future direction. Emerging scholars offer a perspective that can propel GW2ST Indigenous sport research and any future gatherings need to be inclusive.
A future direction is to make visible the invisible. There are phenomenal sport activities being delivered in Indigenous communities across all territories and provinces but for the most part - to borrow from Paraschak (1995), they are invisible but not absent. Twenty-five years later, Indigenous GW2ST in sport are still not visible. It is difficult to know how to assess or research something if you do not know what exists. Therefore, a key recommendation of this review is to make visible the gender inclusive sport initiatives that are being delivered across Canada. Specifically, a future grey literature search focusing on Indigenous women and lacrosse may garner further information. In addition, there is programming in the west for Indigenous girls and young women that has been offered for decades, yet there is little if any profile of these activities. Paraschak (2019) also noted that Forsyth conducted interviews with Indigenous athletes and these interviews were not available. With Forsyth’s new book, perhaps there are further athletes and stories that can be profiled.
There was only one dissertation that was found in this review. However, a further review for thesis and dissertations could be a future direction to find material that has not be further published or disseminated.
A gender analysis of all the Indigenous games – North American Indigenous Games, National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, provincial and territorial games, Arctic Winter Games – is a recommendation for future research to identify where Indigenous GW2ST are represented and how participation can be further encouraged. This could be supplemented by repeating the national scale research done by Statistics Canada on the Aboriginal Peoples’ Survey to report on participation in sport for Indigenous children and youth.
Of course, all future directions need to involve Indigenous peoples and incorporate Indigenous ways of approaching a topic, including methodologies, ethical considerations, data collection, analysis and dissemination.
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