The Institution of CanoeKayak Canada

Final Grade: A+ (90%)

First Nations elders[1] and youth[2] want to participate in the Olympic sport of canoe and kayak racing. “My relationship with this institution started in 2012, when I was a canoe and kayak coach living on a remote “aboriginal rez” for a period of 18-months. My goal and purpose was to prepare a group of youth to qualify for the 2014 North American Indigenous Games Canoe Championships and onwards to our own Olympic dreams [2020/2024]. That experience resulted in me being one of the “nominees” that year for their “Coach Excellence Awards: Development Award”. The CanoeKayak Canada Development Award “is presented annually to the coach who has clearly demonstrated his or her abilities to develop a club/ sport through the grassroots levels of building a club/ or program - such as an aboriginal paddling or PaddleALL program, or the promotion of the sport through the club.”[10]

“Macrosociological” Level of Analysis

From a macrosociological perspective, Sport Organizations are the “formal organizations”.  The Canadian government has identified 57 National Sport Organizations that they fund with taxpayers money.[1] The common goal of these National Sport Organizations is to win medals at the summer and winter Olympic games. Their federal funding is directly linked to their success. [1]

CanoeKayak Canada is a Sport Organization on that list and their goal is to get their athletes to the Olympics and win in both a) canoe and kayak sprint events and b) whitewater events. In addition, c) the world championships for Marathon canoe racing. CanoeKayak Canada, formerly known as the Canadian Canoe Association was incorporated in 1900. [2] This social organization of non-literate societies continues to operate since its incorporation 100+ years ago as a complex formal organization that dates back to modern industrial and post-industrial times. While CanoeKayak Canada is technically a ‘not for profit’ corporation, it receives the majority of its operating funds from federally funded taxpayer’s government agencies such as the Heritage Department of Canada’s: Sport Canada. CBC reports “In the four years leading up to the Rio Olympics, paddlers received $10.3 million across Canada.”[1]. Further In 2016, CBC reporter Shaina Luck wrote “No Olympic medals may mean funding cut for Nova Scotia elite paddlers”. The “Team did not gain any medals in canoeing or kayaking at the Rio Olympics”.

By studying the social organization of CanoeKayak Canada, we build a common interest in understanding and explaining the social conditions one has to endure while aiming towards their Olympic dreams. This organization in modern society operates with “the structures and processes of social groups” that overseas many “small-scale, relatively ephemeral face-to-face interactions which routinely take place whenever individuals come into contact with each other” at races and events. This institution provides a wide spectrum to study human relations in society and as a result can be divided into macro-sociological and micro-sociological terms - as introduced in “the macroscopic/microscopic split in sociological discourse” found in The Macro-Micro Link, edited by Jeff Alexander et al., 1987, and in the concluding chapters of Modern Sociological Theory, by George Ritzer, 2008)” [8].  

In my case, I am interested in understanding the macrosociology of “Why has only one First Nation person gone to the Olympics in the sport of Canoe in 100 years?” which allows me to study this social organizations over a long period of time by researching their membership defined by a) social status and b) social positions that are bounded by their “rules and official sanctions”.[1] However, to do this I must also focus on the microsociology of this “social organization to be reducible to the thoughts and actions of creative social actors.”[8] At the end of the day, all of these micro interactions between social actors (within their membership) essentially form the macrosociological infrastructures of the institutions image or behaviours that may answer my question.

The Structuralist Perspective

Lets look at this social organization CanoeKayak Canada through the lens of Structuralist Theory. Emile Durkheim is a notable and founding figure of Sociology. “According to Durkheim, it was the study of “social facts” which defined the special subject matter of sociology, and which most sharply distinguishes it from that of psychology.”[1]. Durkeim defined social facts as “an aggregate phenomenon (i.e., a product of collective behaviour: a relationship, process, or event), the occurrence of which could best be explained through social rather than psychological (or biological) causes.”[8].

In my classical social theory course, I wrote an essay about this institution called “The systematic distortion of Indigenous History: Downgrading the war canoe from indigenous history to white settler sport”. The essay builds off Emile Durkhaims “structuralist perspective in sociological discourse” where I attempt to explain the causes of the social facts, delineated below,  in the context of how a number of First Nations people are not happy with their treatment by this institution. 

In a previous social sciences essay I wrote about “The Assimilation of Indigenous Canoe/Kayak within the past 150 years, in the Maritimes.” I explained how this social organization [CanoeKayak Canada] had taken the identity of First Nations people of Canada by a) colonizing the sport,  and continued to participate in b) cultural appropriation and c) cultural assimilation. They do this by a) naming their clubs using Indigenous words, when they have no Indigenous programs or participants, nor permission from the originating nations; b) in some cases they wear stereotypical “indian” head logos and c) race mainstream “war canoes” when white people never went to war in a canoe.  In my Social Statistics course, I reviewed the websites of 91 affiliated canoe clubs of the Institution CanoeKayak Canada to answer the following questions:

  • How many Olympic Sprint Canoe Clubs in Canada name themselves after Indigenous words? 19% of the clubs do. 
  • How many Olympic Sprint Canoe Clubs in Canada use stereotypical "Indian" head logos? 2% of the clubs do. 
  • How many Olympic Sprint Canoe Clubs in Canada advertise mainstream "war canoe" racing? 38.5% of the clubs do.

The 91 affiliated canoe clubs are members of CanoeKayak Canada and the participants within those clubs are governed by the rules and regulations set by CanoeKayak Canada. The social relationships that exist amongst its members is one of a) high society, b) high economics and c) privileged powers that are the opposite of the marginalized and disenfranchised members that typically fall to the intended recipients of their “Aboriginal Paddling Initiative”.  They too, dream of the Olympics in canoe racing. 

Therefore “For Durkheim, the study of social facts defined the special subject matter of sociology. And for him, social facts enjoyed an objective social existence: they existed external to the individual, and they also came to exercise a coercive, or controlling, power over individual actions.”

“Microsociological” Level of Analysis

This organization runs like a business with employees and as a result, all its members who dream of the Olympics regardless of ancestry, socio-economic conditions must obey their rules and pathway. The members of this organization are so indoctrinated into a system of false beliefs[1], it allows for a micro-sociological level of analysis that can be demonstrated in the individual actors within the macro framework

The Interactionist (or Constructivist) Perspective

To understand interactionism, we need to start with a generic perspective that dates back to George Hebert Mead, an American philosopher. The general belief of Interactionist is that “presupposition of sociological analysis that is diametrically opposed to that of the structuralist perspective.”. Therefore, it would be to ignore the social facts while adding credence to the social relationship. Much in the way of who cares about the names of the clubs, the “indian” head logos and the mainstream “war canoe” races. We have a personal relationship with indigineoous people and their culture as Canadians and we may even have the same dreams. We respect them as people and therefore want to get the First Nations people to the Olympics in the sport of canoe racing, hence the need for an “Aboriginal Paddling Initiative”. 

The “interactionist perspective focuses on the subjective aspects of social interaction”. By focusing on the social relations as opposed to the institutions we can use the example of the men's Olympic coach as the “social actor” and how he presents himself in “social encounters”.  On December 1, 2017 the Halifax Examiner Editor in Chief wrote an article called "Canoeing and cultural appropriation". [1] The article focuses on CanoeKayak Canada’s hiring of their new Olympic men's coach. CanoeKayak Canada had recently named their new mens Olympic Coach for the 2020 Tokyo games and the 2024 Paris summer games. Andreas Dittmer is a successful triple gold medal Olympic champion and eight time world champion in the sport of canoe racing from Germany (german white ancestry). 

Dittmer likes to dress as a stereotypical “indian” with regallia, including full headdress,  feathers, war paint on his face, wearing a bow and arrow - while in his canoe. The editor writes that  “there can be a dark side to the German love for the “wild west”: it can stereotype and demean Indigenous peoples, seeing them as two-dimensional parables rather than actual living people with their own complexities, histories, and lived lives.”.

The editor ends his article with “Dittmer and Canoe Kayak Canada should explain themselves.”, as he writes “The canoe was, of course, an invention of Indigenous people. So images of non-Indigenous people capitalizing on Indigenous stereotypes strike an ugly chord when Canada is dealing (or not) with reconciliation. “. 

We can see in this example that this has more to do with the structuralist perspective as in the social norms and social facts have allowed for the behaviour of the institutions members that can not be differentiated from the interactionist perspective. Whereas “Interactionists have remained more interested, therefore, in how people understand and interpret each other’s actions than in predicting or explaining their actions as patterned social regularities.” [8] Therefore an example can be seen when I showed a series of photos to First Nations people. Their direct interpretation and feedback was to call them “Wanna-be’s” and further comments were recorded that speak to how “unfair” it was that their culture could be appropriated as such within the organization of CanoeKayak Canada. This speaks to the The Interactionist (or Constructivist) Perspective and it shows the direct interpretation of the social actors behaviour and how it affects them. 
The Postmodernist Perspective

When we consider the term, “ Postmodernism” is seen as a growing threat to sociology and its theories. However, over time postmodernist perspectives have come to influence modern sociological theories. One must consider that this social society of CanoeKayak Canada is not “moving forward, making progress or solving problems” in the modern age. The Modernist behaviours of both the institution and the social actors reminds us that Postmodernism is about “living in an age of broken promises”[8].


When we consider that the organization CanoeKayak has been operating for more than 100 years and they are carrying forward their traditions of a) naming themselves after indigenous words, b) wearing “indian” head logos and c) racing war canoes as a sport. One must consider the times of that era and how it was once considered popular and acceptable to appropriate the First Nations people of Canada’s culture while they were being put into the Canadian Indian Residential School System. The benefits to Structuralist Perspectives is that it allows for the organization to be studied from a macro-sociological perspective.

The Interactionist (or Constructivist) Perspective allows us to understand how the Structuralist Perspectives can look on a micro-sociological perspective as seen in the men's Olympic Canoe Coach and how its deemed normal and acceptable to continue these type of actions which continue to marginalize the First Nations people of Canada.

While I do not believe we can say one perspective is more or less important in the study of sociology. I do feel the Postmodernist perspective is important to address these organizational issues.  When you consider we are in the Truth and Reconciliation era with a specific calls to action in the Sports and Reconciliations sections #87 through #91. Then you consider that as First Nations people are “reviving their culture”, it seems rather inappropriate for the organization CanoeKayak Canada to behave in such a way. That is why the Postmodernist perspective should be valued as it provides a critical perspective of the organizations modern day values.


[1] Sam Edgar Interview - 
[2] Corey and Alex Interviews -, 
[3] 57 National Sport Organizations -
[4] Aboriginal Long-Term Development Pathway: How are the National Sport Organizations (NSO) in Canada implementing the Sport for Life (MSO) Aboriginal Long-Term Participant Development Pathway? - 
[5] The Sport Canada Institutions: CanoeKayak Canada and Own The Podium -
[6]  Canoeing and cultural appropriation -
[7] No Olympic medals may mean funding cut for Nova Scotia elite paddlers - 
[8] Why study organizations - 
[9] CanoeKayak Canada - 
[10] CanoeKayak Canada Coach Excellence Awards - 
[11] The systematic Distortion of Indigenous History: Downgrading the War Canoe from Indigenous History to White Settler Sport -
[12]  The assimilation of Indigenous Canoe/Kayak within the past 150 years, in the maritimes.  - 
[13] Social Statistics: Olympic Sprint Canoe Clubs in Canada - 
[14] Indoctrination (Examples/Purposes): The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, CanoeKayak Canada and Right to Play. -