CanoeKayak Canada Mainstream/Whitestream War Canoe -vs- Indigenous War Canoe

APTN television series “Samaqan: Water Stories”[4], in the episode about the Tribal Canoe Journeys 20th anniversary that was released in 2014. The youngest of the Campbell Brothers can be seen above in blue.

History of the War Canoe Movement

In order to have a social movement, you need to have a social problem. In my course Social Problems (Socio 290) I wrote my final research paper on The Assimilation of Indigenous Canoe/Kayak, within the past 150 years, in the Maritimes [1]. In that paper I wrote about how the Olympic Institute of CanoeKayak Canada, a mainstream/whitestream sport organization’s “war canoe” racing amounts to a) colonization, b) cultural appropriation, and c) cultural assimilation. It does this by calling their racing canoes and the sport - “war canoes” when white people never went to a war in a canoe and the First Nations people of Canada did. These white teams of athletes paddling “war canoes” then a) name their teams after indigenous words or nations, as seen in the Mic Mac Canoe Club and b) wear stereotypical “Indian” head logos on their team outfits when they have no association with the Mi’kmaq First Nation historically. This mainstream sport of “war canoe” amounts to a collective activity and not a social movement. In a Truth and Reconciliation era, Indigenous communities are trying to reconnect with their culture which in many cases was lost due to the long-term effects of the Canadian Indian Residential School system. The war canoe is a large part of the First Nations people of Canada’s history and as they move forward the mainstream “war canoe” racing system of the Institute CanoeKayak Canada is confusing and inappropriate when viewed in a balanced context .

In the book by Suzanne Staggenborg and Howard Ramos - Social Movements (3rd edition), they write “most social movement scholars would agree that social movements ‘are collective efforts, of some duration and organization, using non-institutionalized methods to bring about social change’ (Flacks, 2005:5). ” [2] . An example of a Canadian Social Movement in a Truth and Reconciliation Era can be seen in 2013 by way of an online petition against the Institution of CanoeKayak Canada: Change The Name from "War Canoe" to C-15 [3]. The petition ran for a set amount of time and its intent was for the Institutions to understand the historical context of “war canoe” racing and how it would not be considered acceptable in a Truth and Reconciliation era. The petition opens with “In June of 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons, and on behalf of the Government, apologized to the First Nations people of Canada.” and it reads out the apology and ends with “"Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country."”. Yet, we still have assimilation happening in the sport of Canoe and Kayak “war canoe” racing. Where Indigenous youth are encouraged to participate in mainstream “war canoe”. The petition continues with “CanoeKayak Canada and its club members continue to race 'war canoes' amongst the dominant culture. The use of this term (for this type of canoe/race) is insulting and demeaning to most First Nations people. While generations of 'white' people were racing these canoes and calling them 'war canoes' the indigenous people of our country were being segregated, abused, neglected and tortured to rid them of their culture, language and traditions.”

Issues and Ideas of the War Canoe Movement

To understand the issues of the war canoe movement, you only need to look as far as the petition itself. Many indigenous people left comments such as Angie McCabe’s :“This is important to me because I believe this term comes from the first nation people and I believe that if we are going to use this term, the canoe should be filled with first nations people.”[3].

 For decades the mainstream culture has attempted, through governmental policies and European attitudes, to assimilate and annieliate the indigenous culture.  First Nations people have been struggling to reclaim many aspects of their culture - the canoe being of immense symbolism and meaning to them.  It is insulting to have a predominantly ‘white’ faction (CanoeKayak Canada) rewrite history and act as if it is solely of importance to themselves.
Max Johnson from Bella Bella, B.C. writes - “that's so unfair for our people. A war canoe is what our ancestors used to travel all over the place. And today we use them for our tribal journeys. This is a slap in the face. they should be called race canoes for sure.”[3].

Like many insightful First Nations people, there is emerging a ‘real understanding’ of how aspects of their own culture have been claimed by the ‘white’ culture - dismissing any significance it may hold for the Indigenous peoples of this country.  The war canoe played a very important historical significance in many of B.C.’s Indigenous  coastal communities.  They had many uses, of which they were occasionally utilized to transport warriors in times of conflict with other tribes.  Their history and their culture is once again, being completely ignored and dismissed by the sport institutions that claim their racing canoe is a ‘war canoe’. 

When Johnson writes about “our tribal journeys”, he is referring to the Annual Tribal Canoe Journeys founded by Cathy and Frank Brown of Bella Bella. In 1986 they paddled a dugout ‘War’ canoe from Bella Bella to the World’s Fair - Expo ‘86 in Vancouver B.C..  [3] The Annual Tribal Canoe Journeys can be considered the first collective activity of First Nations people on the west coast of Canada - participating in the War Canoe movement. In the APTN television series “Samaqan: Water Stories”, the show’s host Severn Cullis - Suzuki says that a “young couple wanted to get involved, they didn’t know that an idea would spark one of the largest cultural revivals to be witnessed on the Pacific Northwest.” [4]. Cathy Brown states that the movement took shape in  1989 for the Washington State Centennial.  “We paddled on the ocean to Seattle with about 7 canoes.  The emotions and the feelings of completing this strenuous, inspirational journey was extremely high.”  Cathy Brown further stated: “we hosted the first Tribal Journeys in 1993 up in Bella Bella.  That's when the canoes paddled from Washington and two from the north came to Bella Bella - that's how we got involved” [4]. Today, over 100 dugout war canoes participate in the current Tribal Canoe Journeys.

The First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest, led by the coastal communities of British Columbia, are getting together living their culture, deepening their connections to their culture and to each other.  They are showing the Federal/Provincial Governments that they can survive… and more - they can thrive within their culture.  Thus, when the ‘dominant’ culture say they “race war canoes” and that “it is an integral part of their sporting history” they are mocking and completely eradicating the significance of the ‘war canoe’ to the Indigenous peoples of this country.  It is just one more example of the ‘white’ culture taking over aspects of another culture and calling it their ‘own’.  The sad fact is that most First Nations people do not even recognize this fact and just accept it as ‘truth’.   Assimilation is now complete.

The War Canoe Movement Realities its Confronting

The war canoe social movement is confronting postcolonial realities that have been created since the federation of Canada.  When Frances Trowsse wrote after signing the petition - “I believe it is important to inform Canadians about our 'real' history - not a sanitized version. I believe this petition is a good example of an effort to educate Canada/Canadians and begin speaking with truths.”[3]. She was speaking to the reality that the social movement is confronting. A challenge is to educate the public of  mainstream “war canoe” and to understand the history of why white people raced “war canoes”. A glimpse into that era can be found in The Antique & Classic Boat Society – Toronto, Racing Canoe and Regattas article by Ron Riddell where he writes “In 1882 the first “War Canoe” race was held at Lachine, Quebec. These open canoes came in different lengths - 20’, 30’, and 35’. Originally they were built by the Ontario Canoe Company as freight canoes to be used for exploration and surveying. A lighter version was built for the Toronto Canoe Club and was facetiously referred to as a “War Canoe” [5].” If the Cambridge Dictionary says “facetiously” is  “not serious about a serious subject, in an attempt to be funny or to appear clever” [6]. Then it may be considered that the joke at the time was white people never went to war in a canoe and the “Indians” did, but who cares and the name stuck for 100+ years. What seems so obvious at the time, would not be acceptable today. Yet, the Institution of CanoeKayak Canada prides its history and “it is the focal point of the club system” for the Institution [7]. Ridell writes ““In 1899 ACA held their first War Canoe races at Hay Island, St Lawrence River; all the canoes were Canadian. Also that summer, the Britannia Club of Ottawa promoted a War Canoe league that became the Canadian Canoe Association (CCA). [7]” The Canadian Canoe Association has been renamed CanoeKayak Canada, Incorporated in 1900.”[8].

The war canoe social movement is not limited to an online petition, there were many activities by the group to challenge the Institution and their practices.  Ridell writes “The Golden Years of Canadian canoe sport happened from 1919 to 1939 when membership and spectator popularity expanded.[7]” Post World War 2, canoe racing declined for many reasons, and  now that we are in the Truth and Reconciliation Era, the Institutions need to strongly consider the “facetiousness” in the naming of their sport and the impact it is having on Indigenous people of Canada who are trying to reconnect with their culture.

The activities of the group

1. Social Media - Ultimately the war canoe social movement gains momentum via social media by creating its own audience of followers [9]. The Institutions were aware of the numerous action to bring these issues to their attention. They would collectively block the social media accounts that were advocating the message. Sending a” we don’t care” message to the movement. In addition, one of the ex-presidents of the Institutions felt so compelled by the movement’s message via social media, he sent a series of statements/questions [11] to the group in regards to the mainstreams use of “war canoe”.

2. Video Responses - The movement would respond in the form of videos. In the same APTN television series “Samaqan: Water Stories”[4], in the episode about the Tribal Canoe Journeys 20th anniversary that was released in 2014. During its filming in 2012, the Campbell brothers would be introduced in the segment. They were the founder’s Cathy and Frank Browns orphaned nephews aged 12 (twins) and 15 at the time. Their mother had just passed away and on the episode you can see their grandmother speaking to the importance of the Tribal Canoe journeys to Cathy and Frank Brown inside the Cowichan Tribes dinner hall. Their grandma says to Cathy and Frank Brown - “they just lost their mother and Frank you couldn’t have picked a better time to ask my grandson’s to go on this journey.”[4] She would continue to say “when you're crossing that sound there, you think of mother, every paddle that you pull,  think of all the things  that your mother said to you. Wanted to be a good boy, to walk the right road”[4]. Shortly after the filming of this episode, the Campbell brothers would become part of the Institution  CanoeKayak Canada’s racing system as they prepared to go to the North American Indigenous Games Canoe Championships. Their goal was to win a gold medal for their mother and they would dedicated the next two years to that dream.

At the time (2012-13), the Campbell brothers were learning about the “Indian” Residential School from their grandmother (who was a survivor) and she would advocate to them as they were the 7th generation “offspring” of the school system. She encouraged the boys to speak out against Institutions in regards to their culture and how Indigenous youth were being treated by the Mainstream Institutions at the time in the sport of canoe and kayak [10]. It was at this time, that the Campbell brothers would record a video called The War Canoe Talking Circle [11], where they sat around a fire answering the questions asked by the ex-president of the Institution. It was unscripted, candid and accurate, however it was not received well by the current administration of the Institution.

The Campbell brothers would find out the hard way that their voice had consequences if they spoke out in regards to their culture.  They would find out at the upcoming 2013 BC provincial canoe championships at Seabird Island. This event was also a qualifier for the 2014 North American Indigenous Canoe Championships.  The brothers had just won all their races in both the canoe and kayak events and  became the Provincial Canoe and Kayak Champions for their age categories. During the medal ceremony, the Executive Director of the mainstream/whitestream Institution CanoeKayak BC, (the provincial partner of the federal institution CanoeKayak Canada) would tell a crowded hall of First Nations people that the qualifications for going to the NAIG Canoe Championships would not just be ‘results’ based - but would also be based on their idea of  “good behaviour” [12].  Despite the fact that the Institutions had already put out a technical package that explained the results - based qualifying process.  This additional method of qualifying was aimed specifically at the Campbell brothers for their outspoken beliefs [13].  They felt the Executive Director was speaking directly to them, as did some First Nations Elders in the room. With one elder Dorothy Sheppard, a Indian Residential School Survivor saying “that’s how they talked to us in residential school” [14]. She would explain that those with behavioural problems would be punished if they spoke out about their culture such as these brothers had done.

In the end, the Campbell brothers would be targeted by the Institutions seeking any reason to exclude them from the 2014 NAIG Canoe Championships.  This conveniently came in the form of their grandfather’s funeral. On the day of their grandfather’s funeral there was a “mandatory” training camp. These provincial champions were not able to attend, the Institution ruled that therefore they could not attend the NAIG canoe championships despite their spots remaining empty at the event. They were being punished once again by the Institution for adhering to their cultural protocol.
When the Institution decided to ban the Campbell brothers from the NAIG canoe championships, they were instilling their values. In the academic paper ‘‘A Rink at this School is Almost as Essential as a Classroom’’: Hockey and Discipline at Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, 1945–1951 BY BRADEN TE HIWI AND JANICE FORSYTH  [15] - “The residential school system was founded on the assumption that Western-European ways of living and knowing were superior to Indigenous lifestyles, and that in order for colonization to work, Indigenous peoples’ attachment to their land and culture had to be broken down and replaced with European values, beliefs, and practices.”[15] This speaks to values between sport and “indian” residential school systems. Forsyth writes ““There was little to no room for self-expression in these exercises. The students were required to move in unison as the instructor called out the appropriate commands. While military drill was reserved for the boys, both boys and girls were required to engage in calisthenics and gymnastics.18”[15]. The similarities between the values in sport at the “indian” residential school can be seen in this example when the Campbell brothers spoke about their war canoe culture in an attempt to educate the mainstream sport Institutions [11]. Forsyth writes ““Muscular Christianity played a central role in their missions.24 Muscular Christianity was a British concept that focused on the development of good Christians through sport and games by instilling character traits such as courage, toughness, self-reliance, and sportsmanship in athletes.25”. These characteristic values can be seen in the Institutions website where they write that mainstream “war canoe” racing is “"A timeless demonstration of power and teamwork"” [7]. When Forsyth writes “The development offered by the ideals of Muscular Christianity in sports and games were, in many ways, different from, but also complementary to, the rigid focus on strict discipline and obedience that characterized physical education prior to World War II. Set within a Canadian context, and specifically the residential school system, Muscular Christianity, with its notions of team spirit and cooperation, fair and ethical play, striving to do one’s best, and always accepting the decisions handed out by the coach and referee were as much about cultural development and fitting into Canadian society as it was about fostering submissive obedience.” [15] It would appear that the ideology of Muscular Christianity can be seen in the mainstream sport of “war canoe” racing. To add to the challenges of the Campbell brothers, the Institutions Executive Director was in direct contact with their school principal and that school principal would use and leverage the NAIG Canoe Championships as a tool of good behaviour [7]. Any time the brothers had an issue in school, they would be directly challenged by the principal  on whether they will be able to attend the competition.

When Staggenborg and Howard Ramos - Social Movements (3rd edition), write “according to Tilly, social movements - as they developed in the West after 1750 - came to consist of sustained campaigns that made collective claims aimed at authorities. They typically created special-purpose associations or coalitions and engaged in tactics such as demonstrations, petition drives, public statements, and meetings” [2].  The activities of the group did not just end with a a) online petition, b) social media post and c) video responses towards the Institutions. But further attempts to bring these social problems to the Institutions attention included a) Ontario Human Rights Complaint, b) Registered Federal Lobbying for 12-months, c) APTN Investigates television interviews, and d) a newspaper article in The Hill Times, Ottawa, a political newspaper.

Do the Internet and the World Wide Web provide a viable alternative to the mainstream media?

Yes it does, for example, social media accounts like the war canoe social movement Twitter have close to 10,000 followers [9]. At first the Institutions will ignore you, then they will play the victims by dismissing the movement to their peers and ultimately the movement finds its own voice and audience to speak to. Unfortunately the Institution carries on their business as usual and the Internet has provided a channel to communicate directly to educate the public of the war canoe social movements with its audience. In addition to the use of social media, social movements such as this one have used online petitions and video responses in an attempt to gain the Institutions attention on the subject with hopes of change.

In what ways does the WWW, as an alternative information source, challenge the domination of corporate media and provide space for a more democratic definition of right and wrong?
Since the Institution has the power to get media spots such as CBC news articles and different television spots to promote their ideology as seen when Nina Cofu wrote the article “New $25K war canoe gives Banook paddlers edge in 'very Canadian' sport” about the mainstream war canoe and further tweeted “I had no idea war canoe racing (C-15) only happens in Canada! #UniquelyCanadian, #CanuckSports” [17] yet fails to mention any connection to the Indigenous people of Canada, she is reinforcing that colonia ideology. Social Media has allowed the movement to challenge the writers/producers directly. In the past, movements had difficulty in mass communications as the technologies were simply not there (pre-1990’s). Today with social media and the Internet, social movements such as seen in this research essay have the ability to voice their opinion directly to their opponents.

Are there particular challenges that social movement organizers face when using the WWW as an alternative?

In this social movement, the Internet is really the only way for the social movement to move forward. Because of the large geographical landscape of Canada. It's not feasible for a group of First Nations people on the West Coast of Canada who may paddle war canoes to travel to Ottawa where the Sport Institutions offices are located to protest in person. In addition the Institutions have shown no will to change over the decades of bringing this to their attention.

If the WWW does have potential, what are some things that could undermine that potential and weaken the impact?

As powerful as the Internet has been in getting attention for this social movement. The institutions also have access to the same technology and with a larger budget and technical support they can simply out do the movement with their own brand power. For example in my previous assignment, I wrote about war canoe racing in Canada. When Corfu wrote, “New $25K war canoe gives Banook paddlers edge in 'very Canadian' sport” she writes about the mainstream/whitestream war canoe racing. This Institutional power to get CBC to write articles from their perspective allows them to push their ideology over the historical accuracies of the Indigenous movement of reconnecting with their culture.

The Institution is able to get their “war canoe” canoe sport in the Canada Summer Games as seen in 2013 Canada Summer Games where the Institution can get a TV spot about their version of mainstream War Canoe racing. Hugues Fournel, an Olympic Kayaker said “Every kid, every club, if you’re in a canoe club somewhere in Canada, you’re for sure going to do War Canoe.” [18] The reporter says, that the mainstream/whitestream “war canoe” “is considered the cadillac of canoes, that Fournel and Ontario’s Taylor Potts, a gold medal winner here as a stepping stone at the club level for their success.”[18] Fournel further 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”[18]. Like the writer in The End of Homework states ““this makes childhood the best time to indoctrinate a population. Children are innocent and naive by nature, and have minimal defenses against the nefarious intent of others.”[19]. Essentially generations of Canadians have grown up believing that mainstream war canoe racing is a) stepping stone to success and b) that its named “war canoe” because it feels like you are in a “war”. Again, there is no academic data suggesting that “war canoe” is a stepping stone to success and white people didn’t go to war in a canoe. Yet, First Nations peoples of Canada did.

Despite the war canoe movement to educate the Institution, CanoeKayak Canada would create a video with their corporate sponsor Bear Mountain Boats, Sprint Racing: History, where the commentator says: “This war canoe is a sprint derivative of the classic First Nations boats that you might see on the west coast. They are longer than the traditional birch bark canoes seen in First Nations communities.”[20]. Historically this is incorrect as seen in the writings of by Ron Riddell [5].

Movement's use of the Internet and the WWW. 

The movements use of the Internet has been large. Particularly in social media.  The movement can show a different perspective than the mainstream message and further can challenge that message.
What are they doing on the Internet?
Over the years, the Internet has been the channel to communicate the message. Today, academic research on this movement is posted.

What strategies are they using? 

At this point it's no longer an organized movement and therefore the Institutions have won their battle.  They had far superior resources, time, and capabilities to continue the fight.   Until another wave in a different era comes along and picks up the agenda. There really aren’t any strategies moving forward.

What difficulties are they having?

The institutions don't care, they patronize the First Nations and this case example shows the Institutions carelessness of their actions.  The Institution is so big, so entrenched in their belief system of  ‘assimilation’ being “the right way to do things” they are not even aware of the negative, long-reaching impact of their policies on the people they believe they serve.


In January 2017, Dr. Janice Forsyth wrote a paper called “What does reconciliation mean for Aboriginal sport development in Canada? A discussion.” [21]  I will speak further to this later.
In conclusion, consider  the “Windspeaker War Canoe Meet Olympics” (2003) [22], an article about a Coast Salish First Nations person (Derrick George) who dreams of bringing his indigenous stream sport of war canoe racing to the Olympics. In that article the institution (John Edwards, Domestic Director: CanoeKayak Canada) says it knows nothing of the initiative,  dismissing the Indigenous person: “Edwards said George's desire to have war canoe racing included in the Olympics sooner rather than later stands "Not even a ghost of a chance."[22]”.  The Windspeaker writes that “George was hoping the sport could make it into the Olympics by 2008. "If not 2008, then 2012."[22]”. We know today that Edwards and the institution took their own version of the mainstream “War Canoe” to the 2012 London Olympics to showcase their own version of the “war canoe” as seen in the Globe and Mail - Young Nova Scotia athletes take war canoe to London Olympics  [23]. At the Olympics, a short demonstration was made, where canoes from all over the world were paddled for the audience and in that moment in time, the Institution decided it would be best to demonstrate the mainstream “war canoe” and neglect the Indigenous war canoe.

Consider that the  Domestic Director, John Edwards, refers to his version of the “war canoe” as the most Canadian boat [18].  Consider that the Institution will put it’s own interests first, as seen in the War Canoe Meets Olympics [22]. Consider the war canoe movement which targets the Institutions - not only by petition [3] and a series of video responses [11], it also included  a) Ontario Human Rights Complaint, b) Registered Federal Lobbying, c) APTN Investigates television interviews, and d) a newspaper article in ‘The Hill, Ottawa’, a political newspaper. Despite the support of many Indigenous peoples and their views on the The Institution’s ignorance on the topic - the Institution would continue to ignore the plight of the First Nation.  In fact they would actually ramp up their promotion of their own mainstream “war canoe” at the same time as they profess to advocate for the First Nations inclusion.  For example after the 2014 North American Indigenous Games was over, the Institutions website would no longer have an “Aboriginal Paddling Initiative”. Yet, they would create an extensive promotion of their mainstream “war canoe” racing instead [7]. In addition, I outlined in this research essay that the Institution had newspaper articles [17], television media spots [18] and educational materials [20] developed to promote their message to drown out the Indigenous one. One can conclude the Institution is not only Ignorant, but they simply don’t care.

Therefore, in attempt to answer Dr. Forsyth’s question  “What does reconciliation mean for Aboriginal sport development in Canada? A discussion. [21]”. I would say how can you Reconcile, when the Institutions refuses to understand the Truth?


The Assimilation of Indigenous Canoe/Kayak, within the past 150 years, in the Maritimes. -
Suzanne Staggenborg and Howard Ramos - Social Movements (3rd edition)
CanoeKayak Canada: Change The Name from "War Canoe" to C-15 -
APTN Water Stories
The Antique & Classic Boat Society – Toronto, Racing Canoe and Regattas by Ron Riddell -
Cambridge English Dictonary -
CanoeKayak Canada “War Canoe” -
Canadian Canoe Association -
War Canoe Social Media -
Interviews with Amelia Campbell and the Campbell Brothers
War Canoe Talking Circle -
Seabird Island Medal Presentation
2013 BC Aboriginal Provincial Canoe Championships - Post Award Ceremonies Interviews with Campbell Brothers
 Dorothy Sheppard Interview
“A Rink at this School is Almost as Essential as a Classroom”: Hockey and Discipline at Pelican Lake Indian Residential School, 1945–1951 Braden Te Hiwi, Janice Forsyth
Campbell Brothers Video Interviews leading up to the 2014 North American Indigenous Games
New $25K war canoe gives Banook paddlers edge in 'very Canadian' sport -
2013 Summer Games War Canoe TV spot -
The End of Homework - Etta Kralovec and John Buell
Bear Mountain War Canoe Video -
What does reconciliation mean for Aboriginal sport development in Canada? A discussion by Janice Forsyth, January 12, 2017
Windspeaker - Olympics meet war canoe racing -
Globe and Mail - Young Nova Scotia athletes take war canoe to London Olympics -