National Aboriginal Physical Activity Conference

VIP Reception
Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 7 – 8:30 p.m.
Guelph Civic Museum

Miigwech, Bonjour, Welcome. I’m very pleased to offer greetings on behalf of the City of Guelph.

I’d like to begin with the City of Guelph’s Statement of Acknowledgement:
As we gather, we are reminded that Guelph is situated on treaty land that is steeped in rich indigenous history and home to many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people today.
As a City, we have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land on which we live and work.
Today we acknowledge the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation on whose traditional territory we are gathered.

This statement acknowledges that there is a rich history of Indigenous Peoples in the Guelph area.

• Archeological evidence indicates Indigenous Peoples were present in the area now known as Guelph as early as 11,000 years ago.

• Up until the 15th century, the Anishnaabe people lived, farmed, and hunted in the Guelph area.

• Local aboriginal population was once estimated to number 30,000.

As Much of our First Nations’  history was not written down anywhere we are grateful to those who are keeping that history alive even today.

But I am here to bring greetings at the start of the National Aboriginal Physical Activity conference. As I do, I want to digress into my appreciation of Aboriginal history, culture and what I consider to be a bit of a problem our dominant culture has acknowledging the richness of that culture from Coast to Coast to Coast.

I am sure that everyone is familiar with Norval Morriseau, Benjamin Chee Chee, the carvers and artists on the West Coast including Roy Henry Vickers in Tofino. I am sure we are familiar with Wab Kinew and of course my friend Tom King. Many of us are still appreciative of Pauline Johnson.

I am grateful for the contributions of Tom, Wab and Pauline to literature and in Wab’s case to political activism. I am also pleased that Canada embraces First Nations’ artists like Roy, Norval and Benjamin. We must take pride in these. Furthermore, we all appreciate the music of Buffy Sainte Marie and a Tribe called Red.

So it is a puzzle to me why we don’t seem to embrace First Nations’ athletes in the same way. Perhaps it is because the athletics that I and others are familiar with seem, with the exception of Lacrosse to be so foreign to us. Inuit sports I have witnessed in the Pan Polar Games are beyond me. Some of them even scare me. You can be assured that I will never participate in a blanket toss.

Yet, you know there was purpose to these feats. The athletics my grandmother and her brothers played when they settled Wabigoon Ontario over 135 years ago were those that helped them survive. Without hunting, fishing and the canoe skills taught to them by their Ojibway sisters and brothers I would not be here today. I confess to be in awe of my grandmother for having known how to skin a rabbit, hunt a partridge and fish for Pickerel and Pike.

I am more disturbed that when I taught history, my students knew nothing of Tom Longboat whom I argue is one Canada’s greatest athletes – if not our greatest. Tom’s running feats, his role in WWI should be the stuff of legend. Yet, he is largely ignored by our dominant culture. I always thought that the Skydome/ Rogers Centre should have been named after him. Skydome always sounded as if it should be in Montana. Rogers Centre sounds like a place to get my internet service.

The Tom Longboat Stadium, on the other hand, would have been a place all could have taken pride in as we remembered the greatest runner in Canada’s history and a figure largely forgotten by adults, kids and in the classrooms of Canada.

Yet, my political statement should not distract from why were are here. Thank you for promoting athletics amongst our First Nations as you do. My late friend Sherman was an Ojibway musician and baseball player.  During the summer he and I would play ball together, drink a few beers play guitar and share a few laughs. Sherman’s ball playing was legendary in Guelph. He could hit, he could catch – but his knees in later years did not let him run. Yet up to his death, he knew that athletics was an important part of a lifestyle kept him mentally and physically happy to the end. When he passed, I lost a friend. What I will never lose is the memory of him hitting the longest homer I have ever seen right over my head when we were on different teams. He didn’t need to run those bases, he could have hopped or crawled backwards and it would not have mattered. I know he would have embraced this conference and its goals.

Welcome to our city. Your visit here is a testament to how athletics among First Nations is important for all. To be an athlete in childhood is the start of a healthy lifestyle. I am sure that Tom Longboat and Sherman ran, played and competed early on in their earthly existence. Tom King, not so much, ask me to tell you about his pool playing and then, I encourage you to challenge him to a stakes game. Your money is safe.

Thank you, a la prochaine, miigwech, we are thrilled to have you here. I wish you all the very best for a wonderful conference.

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