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Indigenous athletics gets spotlight in new display celebrating upcoming Games

The new installation in the Instructional Centre commemorates the past, present and future of Indigenous athletics for the North American Indigenous Games, part of which will be hosted at U of T Scarborough this year. (Photo by Alexa Battler)

University of Toronto Scarborough is commemorating the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games - and its role in hosting it - with a massive new installation in the Instructional Centre's glass display case (also known as a vitrine).

This year, the games will run from July 16 to 23. U of T Scarborough is hosting cross-country events in the valley on July 17 and baseball events at Dan Lang Field from July 17 to 20. Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre will host events in badminton from July 17 to 21 and swimming on July 20 and 21.

Attendees can also view the colourful new installation, which details the past, present and future of Indigenous athletics. It was curated in partnership with U of T Scarborough, the Doris McCarthy Gallery and the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games.

“It’s very important to learn about the culture and the history,” says Asia Jensen, who designed the installation. “I think it’s very important to let people know there are some amazing Indigenous athletes in our history.”

Jensen also designed the logo for the Games. The logo, which is also in the upper centre of the display, includes a yellow eagle, an orange feather, a red sash and stripes of blues and greens - the colours of the northern lights. Eagles are symbols of strength and courage for many Indigenous people in North America. The feather represents the First Nations, the sash represents the Métis and the northern lights represent the Inuit.

Jensen used the same symbolic colours to create the installation at U of T.

 “I think it’s fantastic that this was done,” says Jensen. “It encourages all the young Indigenous athletes and all Indigenous kids.”

The leftmost of the installation features information on a new part of the Games, #Team88. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has 94 calls to action, which call for Canadians to recognize the past, and progress towards rectifying the legacy of residential schools and advancing reconciliation for the future.

Their eighty-eighth call is one for all levels of governments in Canada to commit to long-term development of Indigenous athletics and support of the North American Indigenous Games. #Team88, which is named for the call, promotes sports and wellness in Indigenous communities, while bringing focus to the TRC’s recommendations of sports as a path to reconciliation.   

The middle of the installation is made of panels outlining the careers and Indigenous identities of six athletes. Professor Bruce Kidd, Vice-President, U of T and Principal, U of T Scarborough, has a special relationship to the first of these panels. It depicts Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long-distance runner who, in the early twentieth century, was considered the best marathoner in the world. Kidd, who is also a long-distance runner, wrote Tom Longboat’s biography in 1980.

Kidd says the previously received ideas of Longboat were that the athlete had been incredibly talented, but had squandered his abilities through poor training, alcohol abuse and recklessness. 

“I dug further,” says Kidd. “I went to the reserve, I read local newspapers, I talked to people who knew him, and I put together quite a different story.”

Kidd says he found that Longboat had trained in ways that differed from the standards of the white coaching establishment in the early twentieth century, but were consistent with his Onondaga heritage and worked very well for him. Kidd says much of today’s long distance training derives from similar ideas.

“He took very good care of himself. He disciplined himself to compete well and he succeeded against terrible racism,” says Kidd. “I became an admirer of him from that point on.”

“I’m delighted to see his name, but it’s not just his name - it’s what he stood for. He stood for the very best in sport and he did that on the basis of a strong commitment to Indigenous tradition.”

The final, rightmost segment of the installation focuses on Indigenous sports: lacrosse, canoeing and kayaking and archery. One of the main functions of the Games is to “revive some of the great athletic traditions of Indigenous peoples and their cultures,” Kidd says.

The installation will be featured until Sep. 17.


© University of Toronto Scarborough