The Assimilation of Indigenous Canoe/Kayak, within the past 150 years, in the Maritimes.

1906 - The children of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations on route to the Christie (Kakawis) Indian residential school that operated on Meares Island off the coast of Tofino, British Columbia. The longest running school in British Columbia history where the school operated from 1900 and 1983 by the Roman Catholics.
Dr. Janice Forsyth, Vanessa Lodge-Gagne and Audrey Giles wrote a paper “Negotiating Difference: How Aboriginal Athletes in the Maritimes Brokered their Involvement in Canadian Sport” published in Taylor & Francis”. The academic paper focuses “by examining the experiences of nine elite Aboriginal athletes from the Maritimes, specifically those who won a Tom Longboat Award, through a postcolonial lens.”. The writers acknowledge that “Aboriginal perspectives on experiences in sport in Canada are largely missing from the existing body of literature on sociocultural aspects of sport, but this is especially the case in terms of Aboriginal people from the Maritimes region of Canada.

My aim is to contribute to the body of knowledge on Aboriginal sport by narrowing the topic to the assimilation of Indigenous Canoe and Kayak, within the past 150 years, in the Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). To which the writers claim “ Trying to find published studies on Aboriginal sport in any one of those three provinces is challenging and has certainly frustrated more than a few scholars. Ballem lamented this problem in ‘Missing from the Canadian Sport Scene: Native Athletes’ where he outlined the accomplishments of several Aboriginal athletes who competed for the Abegweit Amateur Athletic Association in Prince Edward Island at the turn of the twentieth century.”.

With Canada’s 150th birthday celebrated on July 1, 2017 there has been recent debate over the naming of schools for Canada’s First Prime Minister, SIr. John A. McDonald.  A topic that the Globe and Mail published an article called “Honouring Indigenous heroes better than debating Macdonald: Sinclair” Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair reflects on the first Prime Minister. "He clearly attempted to eliminate Indigenous culture by removing children from their families and placing them with people of another race ... for the purpose of wiping out the race of people known as Indian," Sinclair said.

Have you ever thought what it might be like to lose your identity?

Misao Dean, Professor of English at the University of Victoria explored the topic as it relates to the Canoe and Canada on the CBC’s The 180 radio show with Jim BrownIs the canoe a symbol of Canada, or of colonialism?”. In this radio interview “Dean asks us to consider the canoe, and what it really represents in Canadian society, and whose symbol it is.”. Dean further states that “the story Canadians tell themselves about the canoe is one of European colonialism, while ignoring the role the canoe played in displacing and harming indigenous people.”  It is interesting that host Jim Brown opens the Interview with “Ah, the Canoe. One of the seven wonders of Canada.” Brown is referencing a popularity contest hosted by CBC called - The Seven Wonders of Canada, In which the Canoe was one of the seven winners , playing right into the point Dean is making. If you read the Seven Wonders of Canada you will realize how the Canoe became a winner through the email nominations submitted by Mary Lofthouse,  Rick Zroback, Robert Thompson Boyd, Doug Barnes.  

  • Mary Lofthouse writes “the ingenuity of its designers from aboriginal craft to the legendary 19th century Peterborough fabricators.”.
  • Rick Zroback writes “This superb vessel allowed the first nations people to coexist in their natural environment and the European fur traders to enjoy the other six wonders of Canada.
  • Robert Thompson writes “we learned to canoe, but we also learned to sing the songs the voyageurs sang to keep the rhythm of their paddling together, and a bit about the history of how the English, French, and Native cultures connected
  • Doug Barnes writes “The construction materials have changed, but the design of the canoe has remained unaltered for the last four hundred years.” However, makes no mention to the Indigenous people of Canada and the canoe.

The Seven Wonders of Canada says “Canoes take many forms: from the slick lines of a racing canoe, to the ruggedness of a seagoing cedar canoe, from cleverly assembled birch bark, to the shiny fiberglass, or the comfy inflatable.

Can a sport even be colonized?

Canadians do not know a lot about the “racing canoe” and many times people ask me, is it even an Olympic sport? Cultural Assimilation is an unpopular concept in today’s “politically correct” society - but it continues to be promoted by our Government and various organizations. “Why is this so important to address, especially amid much larger concerns like land loss, clean water, racism in policing, and other deeply rooted systemic abuses.”   While the war canoe/racing canoe seems unimportant and trivial in the larger scheme of these social concerns, it speaks very clearly to how entrenched is our racism, with attitudes and policies that eradicate, diminish, and ignore the historical significance of something so important to indigenous people.  If this can happen to the canoe - then how many other areas have we already assimilated this culture into the dominant culture framework.  This is  exactly why people should pay attention to this issue.

I would like to show you how one organization - a sport organization - has managed to assimilate an important part of First Nations heritage into their own sporting culture and continue to behave as if there is no correlation between the two.  We have predominately privileged, white, people racing what they consider ‘War Canoes’ as part of their proud colonial history.  A history where they a) wear stereotypical indian head logos on their club clothing and equipment, b) name their clubs after indigenous words and c) race their own version of a ‘war canoe’. There is no mention of the West Coast First Nations from which their ‘history’ originated.  They have re-written the facts ( which will be later presented) to negate the historical significance to the indigenous peoples of Canada.

The Indigenous people of Canada surely have bigger problems like land treaties, clean water, racism in policing, and other deeply rooted systemic abuses. So really who cares about sports? By considering the information provided below, you will realize that by using the example of “sport” to show how a proud culture is being virtually ignored, moreover, there are policies and attitudes within these sports that keep the indigenous peoples of our country out of the competitive arenas of many of these sports, and particularly within the sport of canoe/kayak. If this happens in something so basic as sport - than what else is happening in the more important areas as health, education, law, social policy etc.

Dr. Janice Forsyth, Vanessa Lodge-Gagne and Audrey Giles wrote “part to the question that Ballem posed earlier: Where did all of the Aboriginal athletes go, especially after the First World War? Certainly, the Great War marked a turning point for Aboriginal people in sport. From the 1920s to the 1970s, their presence in recorded history dwindles to the point of being almost invisible. Were they pushed out of sport? Were they made irrelevant to the developing sport system? If they did participate in sport, what kind of experiences did they have? And what do those experiences tell us about the realities they faced in other areas of life?
In Northern Sandlots, Howell outlined how Aboriginal people were removed from the growing structure of sport in the Maritimes through a combination of government-funded programs aimed at restructuring Aboriginal lives, as well as through race- and class-based ideologies that limited or restricted Aboriginal sport participation altogether.
CanoeKayak Canada promotes cultural assimilation through policy, practice, and ignorance of historical truths. I will show historical documents, documents reporting “Indian” names for clubs when residential schools were in full effect and natives were not allowed their culture, to speak their language, have ceremonies etc.  I will use press releases that talk about the history of war canoes and the mis-information in those releases; the various sport policies that do not allow for First Nations participation because of the elitism of the sport itself.  Ie. from calling this type of canoe a ‘war canoe’ when whites never went to war in canoes, yet natives did the amount of monies that are given to the organization for aboriginal racing, yet there are no groups of First Nations racing in the same sporting events as the whites.

Dates and Statistics

  • Canada 1st Birthday - July 1, 1867
  • CanoeKayak Canada founded as The Canadian Canoe Association - 1900
  • Canada demonstrates Canoe Racing to the Olympics in 1924
  • Canada demonstrates the Colonial War Canoe at the Olympics 2012
  • Canada’s 150th Birthday - July 1, 2017

For more than 20 years, CanoeKayak Canada has been keeping track of their own version of war canoe records for both men and women. There are currently seven categories, of which 5 of the 7 records are held by canoe clubs in the Maritimes provinces.

In the three maritime provinces of Canada, there are fifteen canoe clubs. With the oldest clubs being Banook est. in 1903 and Mic Mac est. in 1922. Despite the obvious of all these Indigenous names, there is no Indigenous input or consultation. For example when you look at the Mic Mac Nova Scotia canoe club, with a typical “Indian” head logo and boasting 90 years. One would assume that this is the Mic Mac First Nation. After all, it appears to be Indigenous, however, this could not be the furthest thing from the truth. In 1922, the Mic Mac First Nation did not authorize this and there are no indigenous initiatives or participants within this club. This is a predominantly white club with no connection to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

A Table of canoe and kayak clubs in the maritimes.
Additional Provinces include:

British Columbia

A Table of canoe and kayak clubs in other provinces. 


Despite a tremendous effort of many people to bring this politically incorrect behaviour to the sport organization of CanoeKayak Canada and the Federal Government of Canada.

CanoeKayak Canada has their own section of War Canoe racing on their website . Where they write about their own war canoe equipment and they have also made up their own War Canoe “Lingo” for participants to understand while competing in these colonial events.

Wikipedia states “Colonization (or colonisation) is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.”,

Cultural Appropriation
Canadian Olympic Paddler, Hughes Furnell says “Everybody's screaming and you feel like you are in a war and thats why its called war canoe and it's one of the oldest oldest races we do in Canada. ” at the 2013 Summer Games. It is important to note that White people did not go to war in a Canoe and Indigenous Peoples of Canada did.

Bear Mountain Boats “In the last video of our sprint racing series, we look at the unique history of war canoe competition in Canada. John Edwards, former Domestic Development Director of CanoeKayak Canada, joins the announcers in the booth for this one.” -

Wikipedia states “Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.

Cultural Assimilation

This practice continues today across Canada as seen in the below photograph from the 2014 BC Canoe Kayak Provincial Championships. Where you have a group of First Nations Youth racing at the back of the colonial war canoe of CanoeKayak B.C. From coast to coast, the impact of The Assimilation of Indigenous Canoe/Kayak, within the past 150 years, in the Maritimes all the way to the province of British Columbia.

Wikipedia states  “Cultural assimilation is the process by which a person's or group's culture come to resemble those of another group.

Sequence of Events
In my conclusion, I do believe that CanoeKayak Canada has and knowingly continues to participate in colonization, to cultural appropriation to continued assimilation in the sport of Canoe and Kayak racing within Canada.

Despite being in the Truth and Reconciliation Era, they continue to ignore the historical facts that are commonly known today. CanoeKayak Canada and Sport Canada’s federal department should be doing more to correct this problem, but the reality is complete lack of complying with the TRC recommendations #87-91 Sports and Reconciliation era.

Do you agree that "War Canoe" Racing is a Social Problem in Canada?
Please feel free to leave your comments below and thanks for reading.