For my English 2200: Sport Literature class I had written my final paper which compared and contrasted Richard Wagames “Indian Horse with the Soiux Lookout Black Hawks. Although this paper was written for a different class, I found the relationship with my research paper was simular.
Transitioning into a Canadian Identity: Assimilating Residential School Students through Hockey
Sport was introduced into Residential Schools in the 1940’s and 50’s in hopes of assimilating Aboriginal students into the Canadian way of life (Hiwi 85). The sport which exemplified Canadian culture the most was hockey. In Richard Wagamese “Indian Horse” and Braden Te Hiwi and Janice Forsyth’s “‘A Rink at This School Is Almost as Essential as a Classroom: Hockey and Discipline at Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, 1945-1951” the sport of hockey is identified as a way to transition Aboriginal Students from their own culture to a Canadian colonized culture (Te Hiwi 83). Muscular Christianity was taught from playing hockey as Aboriginal players could learn the proper morals that came from the sport. For Aboriginal student-athletes, hockey became an safe haven where playing the sport allowed students to escape the abuse in Residential schools. However, hockey became a platform to showcase Aboriginals assimilation to Canada identity, which caused incidents of racism from white fans and reporters. The sport of hockey in the Residential school system showcased Aboriginal assimilation and transitioning into a Canadian identity.
The residential schools at Pelican Lake and St. Jerome’s treat hockey as a kind of “Muscular Christianity” where their belief is “the development of good Christians through sport and games by instilling character traits such as courage, toughness, self-reliance, and sportsmanship in athletes” (Hiwi 86). Boys of Pelican Lake Residential School specifically were introduced into hockey to fulfill the Christianized and Canadian identity. Pelican Lake Residential School developed into the Sioux Lookout Blackhawks and would excel in Muscular Christianity as the Bantam team would go on to become the Thunder Bay District Champions. However, to excel or graduate from the hockey program, they had to exemplify behaviour depicted by their opponent as showcased by ‘‘it was the first hockey team which had ever behaved properly!’’ (Hiwi 95). Similarly, hockey was implemented into the Residential School in “Indian Horse” as an attempt to achieve Muscular Christianity. Saul Indian Horse uses the sport of hockey to progress his values and morals to create a Canadian identity. When the opportunity arose to graduate St. Jerome’s Residential School, he would have the ability to integrate into a colonized life: “he will have the benefit of a good home and good schooling. We will have achieved our mission” (Wagamese 96). The importance of achieving Muscular Christianity from Saul Indian Horse and the Sioux Lookout Blackhawks would be beneficial in the Churches and Governments perspective as they transitioned into a Canadian identity.
Life in Residential Schools became a place savagery as the church tried to expel the Savagery of Aboriginal students. Savagery came through the form of sexual, psychological and physical abuse from the nuns, priests and teachers who were in charge. Livelihood of Aboriginal Students in Residential schools came to the point where students had taken means into their own hands. Throughout Richard Wagamese “Indian Horse”, Saul returns to past memories of students he saw take their lives due to the abuse that was given in St. Jerome’s Residential School. Throughout his years at St. Jerome’s he had used hockey in the way the school intended the sport for him: to assimilate into Canadian culture. Hockey had integrated Saul into Canadian culture so the teachers did not have to. Sauls school life at St. Jerome’s was contrasting to other students as he was able to escape abuse due to his ability to perform on the ice. His hockey career created an identity which Saul could follow in order escape Residential School life: “In the spirit of hockey I believed I had found a community, a shelter and a haven from everything bleak and ugly in the world” (Wagamese 90). Similar to Saul, sports at the Pelican Lake Residential gave students an opportunity to escape their school life: “[sport] made their lives more bearable and gave them a sense of identity, accomplishment, and pride” (Habkirk 3). These aspects of sport were sought after at Pelican Lake where many students would practice their hockey skills with hopes of making the Blackhawks (Hiwi 95). In addition, Hockey’s popularity came as a way for students to escape their students life and explore sport to cope with the abuse Residential schools have created (Habkirk 3). Travel had been intriguing part of the Hockey team where players would have the opportunity to leave School for a period of time to compete. The time spent away from residential schools allowed the student/athletes to reset from their school life and focus on Hockey instead. The implementation of Hockey in Residential schools had created a safe-haven for students to use sport to escape the abuse from the teachers in the school. However, escaping the abuse through Hockey still provided a transition into a Canadian identity.
Showcasing Aboriginal athlete playing Hockey against white, Canadian athletes proved to Canada that assimilation of Aboriginals to Canadian culture had been transitioning. However, Hockey in Residential school faced racism from the Canadian population in order to create separation of the two peoples. Although Hockey was enforced in the transition to make Aboriginals into Canadians, hockey was still an aspect of Canada which Canadians took seriously. When Saul left St. Jerome’s to play for the Moose, he would find that assimilation to Canadian culture would not change Canadians perceptions of Aboriginals. The Moose faced many accounts of racism as they were depicted as ‘others’ and their Hockey skills surpassed the “white guys” (Wagamese 118). For Canadian fans, their views towards the diversity on the ice would be made clear towards the Aboriginal teams: “The crowd reacted whenever he read out a particularly Indian-sounding name, shouting out jibes and taunts” (Wagamese 124). Similar to the Moose, the Blackhawks performances caught Canadians off guard as the team would exhibit high end skills on the ice. However, reporting on the Blackhawks performance would never surpass the cultural view that they were still Aboriginals: ‘‘there was no scalping, rough-house or angry words. Just clean play, goodwill all around and smiles, especially Indian smiles” (Hiwi 100). However, the Blackhawks would have their performance exploited by the Churches and Government in an approach to prove the assimilation to Canadian culture. Examining the Aboriginal athletes assimilation to Canadian culture was showcased as the Blackhawks would enter a three game tour which broadcasted the Aboriginal team playing White teams. Throughout the tournament, media coverage would prove the government and churches role in the Residential School systems helped transition Aboriginal Students to assimilation into a Canadian identity: “The Blackhawks could engage Canadians’ interest in hockey, show the success of residential schools, and offered visible proof that First Nations peoples could compete against whites on equal terms” (Hiwi 97). The Blackhawks created a platform for the Government and Churches to showcase and exploit Aboriginals of their assimilation to Canadian identity. Since Aboriginal students had begun transitioning into a Canadian identity, Canadians and Aboriginals would now be equal. However, the acceptance of the transition of Aboriginals students into Canadian culture would cease to exist at this time as Aboriginals experienced racism from Canadians.
In Richard Wagamese “Indian Horse” and Braden Te Hiwi and Janice Forsyth’s “‘A Rink at This School Is Almost as Essential as a Classroom: Hockey and Discipline at Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, 1945-1951” the sport of Hockey in the Residential School system showcased Aboriginal assimilation and transitioning into a Canadian identity. Muscular Christianity was identified from Hockey as Aboriginal players could learn the proper morals that came from the sport. For Aboriginal student-athletes, hockey became an safe-haven where playing the sport allowed students to escape the abuse in Residential schools. However, Hockey became a platform to showcase Aboriginal students assimilation to Canada identity from Residential schools. In conclusion, Residential schools have used the sport of hockey to transition and assimilate Aboriginals students into a Canadian identity.
Habkirk, Evan J, and Janice Forsyth. “Truth, Reconciliation, and the Politics of the Body in Indian Residential School History.” ActiveHistory.ca, 27 Jan. 2016, activehistory.ca/papers/truth-reconciliation-and-the-politics-of-the-body-in-indian-residential-school-history/.
Te Hiwi, Braden, and Janice Forsyth. “‘A Rink at This School Is Almost as Essential as a Classroom’: Hockey and Discipline at Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, 1945-1951.” Canadian Journal of History, vol. 52, no. 1, Spring/Summer 2017, pp. 80–108. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3138/cjh.ach.52.1.04.
Wagamese, Richard. Indian Horse: a Novel. Douglas & McIntyre, 2018.