Native Games: Indigenous Peoples and Sports in the Post-Colonial World: Volume 7


Table of contents

(20 chapters)

Purpose – Using the example of the Dene Games competition, this chapter examines the connections between contemporary sports and the games of the Dene (Athapaskan), a group of indigenous cultures inhabiting the subarctic regions of the Canadian Northwest Territories.

Design/methodology/approach – The chapter is based on participant-observation and individual interviews conducted during attendance at the Dene Games gatherings over the course of several years.

Findings – I argue that the indigenous Dene Games gathering, where traditional games are organised as a contemporary sports competition, opens a space for the reconstitution of indigenous physical activity practices. The tensions that occur when participation in indigenous games articulates to the practical logic of competitive sports, identify the Dene Games as a space of active cultural contestation.

Originality/value – The chapter examines the articulation of historically disparate social practises. It views the hysteretic effects of a pre-existing indigenous physical activity practice as a point of reference for resistance to the normative constraints emanating from the organisational modality of contemporary sports, without offering up an explanation that relies on voluntaristic assumptions of agency. It adopts this perspective in order to avoid grasping the indigenous practice as the operationalised object of its own intervention, a ‘museum piece’.


Purpose – This chapter explores how various types of sports provided by the Sámi sport organisation in Norway (SVL-N) contribute to the construction of Sámi ethnic identity.

Design/methodology/approach – Analysis of policy documents and literature of Sámi sport, and field work into Sami sport contexts were conducted. Based on the theoretical framework of identity as a result of ethnic boundaries, the analysis focuses upon identity work within Sámi contexts, compared with identity work across Sámi and Norwegian contexts.

Findings – Both unique Sami sports, such as reindeer racing and lassoing, and ‘universal sport’, such as football and cross-country skiing, provide opportunities for the construction of ethnic identity. Identity work within Sámi contexts focused on the internal cultural elements, while identity work in universal sports focused on the differences in comparison with Norwegian sport. However, refinements were revealed.

Research limitations/implications – The main limitation of this study is lack of empirical evidence provided by the athletes in Sámi sports.

Originality/value – This chapter provides an overview of Sámi sports and various approaches to ethnic identification through sport. The emphasis is on how a theoretical approach focusing on ethnic boundaries is supplemented by an approach acknowledging the cultural material within specific ethnic contexts.


Purpose – This chapter attempts to provide a literary analysis of the various ways in which the importance of basketball in North American Native culture has been represented in literature produced by three Native American authors: James Welch, Stephen Graham Jones, and Sherman Alexie.

Design/methodology/approach – The foundation of this study is derived from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s account of his experiences as a coach of Apache players in Arizona in A Season on The Reservation, and the example of Shoni Schimmel, from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who is featured in the documentary, Off the Rez. These documentary accounts are supplemented by a critical apparatus drawn from the ideas of the Anishinaabe critic, Gerald Vizenor.

Findings – The character of the Native basketball star functions as a complex signifier that resists Western conceptions of individual achievement and success in favor of Native conceptions of community and cultural survivance.

Research limitations/implications – The limitations of literary analysis stem from the engagement with a body of Native literature that is by no means comprehensive. In addition, the views expressed by each writer are necessarily punctuated by narrative ambiguity and indeterminacy.

Originality/value – The chapter provides a unique introduction to the motif of basketball in contemporary Native American fiction and the storytelling practices from which meaning emerges. The analysis of the works addressed highlights a Native-centered interpretive approach that reveals the complex meaning of basketball in Native American society. The use of this culturally responsive critical paradigm allows readers to approach Native literary achievement on its own terms, rather than from the perspective of the dominant culture.


Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to consider the (re-)emergence of the sport waka ama (outrigger canoe) in light of the broader historical, social, political, cultural and economic landscape of ‘post-colonial’ Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Design/methodology/approach – The chapter draws upon a micro-ethnography of the 2011 Waka ama national competition to elucidate the ways in which the sport serves as an important site for sharing Māori identities and culture. The empirical aspects of the chapter utilise observations and semi-structured interviews with key gatekeepers of waka ama in Aotearoa/New Zealand and participants in the sport.

Findings – The key findings of the study offer new insights into the relationship between the (re-)emergence of waka ama and the wider context of ‘post-colonial’ Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Research limitations/implications – The restricted timeframe that the research took place within could be viewed as a limitation to the research project.

Originality/value – The chapter provides an alternative reading of the sport waka ama within ‘post-colonial’ Aotearoa/New Zealand. To date there has been little research conducted on the role sport has played within the process of colonisation in Aotearoa/New Zealand. There has also been limited research that illustrates the role of waka ama, as a uniquely indigenous sport, as a vehicle of social change within indigenous communities. The authors highlight the unique nature of waka ama and provide an alternative commentary on the colonial/neocolonial forces that have impacted waka ama in its emergence.


Purpose – This chapter investigates how being Māori influences the sport experiences of Māori participants, and offers a critical Māori perspective on mainstream New Zealand sport. It argues for the value of moving towards a culturally competent approach that embraces, rather than resists, Māori tikanga and practices.

Design/methodology/approach – The research is driven by an Indigenous kaupapa Māori research methodology that privileges research by Māori, about Māori, being Māori. Ten highly experienced Māori participants were interviewed. The cultural competence continuum was employed to assess New Zealand sport’s ability to meet the needs of its indigenous peoples.

Findings – For the Māori participants, mainstream sport reflects the echoes of colonial ways of thinking that frequently ignore or devalue Māori values or interpret assertions of self-determination as separatist and divisive. Using examples from the participants’ experiences, we argue that cultural competence is something that could benefit all in New Zealand sport.

Research limitations/implications – The limitations of a small sample are addressed by triangulating the participants’ perspectives with other sources of information about Maori sporting experience.

Originality/value – The chapter privileges a Māori critique of existing structures and suggests a way forward that could positively influence sport delivery for Māori and people of all ethnicities.


Purpose – We share experiences from the research process that expose the shortcomings and flaws of the different research production review mechanisms. Our aim is to highlight the resistance and paternalistic misunderstandings that characterise some processes when considering indigenous ‘subjects’.

Design/methodology/approach – This chapter draws upon examples from primary source material as the basis for analysis and discussion. These examples are drawn from academic reports, correspondence to authors and media accounts. The critical approach is influenced by the theoretical works that address the influence and infiltration of ‘commonsense’ understandings, and the resistance to alternative academic inquiry and interpretation of indigenous sports participation issues in Australia.

Findings – The structure, resources and mechanisms available to the dominant alliance of dominant groups serve to curtail and suppress alternative research efforts.

Research limitations/implications – The available examples are not drawn from the broad field. Indeed, they are limited to those available via research circles of colleagues. Any conclusions should be considered within the notion of context specific rather than any broad generalisation.


Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to examine the experiences of indigenous participants in Global North led sport for development programmes. The chapter considers whether the experiences of indigenous participants reflect the neo-colonialist claims levied at such initiatives.

Design/methodology/approach – The chapter draws on findings from a qualitative study utilising in depth interviews with 14 young women who participated in a sport for development initiative and 8 mothers and grandmothers.

Findings – The research illustrates how we can construct sport for development initiatives as neo-colonial activities imposed on indigenous participants by Global North agencies. However, we argue that this alone does not capture the complexity of experience at local level and the young women we interviewed highlighted the important place sport for development programmes have within their lives and how they reshape them to provide resources that are valuable for them within their communities.

Research limitations/implications – The challenges of navigating power relationships as Global North researchers working in the Global South are highlighted and their potential impact on the research discussed.

Originality/value – The chapter highlights the importance of understanding indigenous experiences in sport for development programmes. Such local level analysis is lacking within current literature.


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to reveal a missing chapter of Australian Aboriginal history. Jack Johnson is known as the first black Heavyweight Champion of the world but little is known of his inspiration to many oppressed groups around the globe including Aboriginal Australia. Johnson was flamboyant, outspoken and deeply proud of his heritage.

Design/methodology/approach – This chapter is undertaken as restorative history and examines the interconnected international networks of cultural exchange operational in the early decades of the twentieth century. It privileges the tools of historical narrative (story) as a major method, and is based largely on historical newspapers sources’. Press coverage can provide fascinating insight into historical characters and can deliver their voice and thoughts at the time, and newspapers remain important in forming public opinion.

Findings – Jack Johnson would become one of many influences from the international Black Diaspora upon Aboriginal Australia across the twentieth century.

Originality/value – John Maynard’s work on Jack Johnson (Maynard, J. (2003). Vision, Voice and Influence – The rise of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association. Australian Historical Studies, 121(April), 91–105, 2005, 2007) and more recently Theresa Runstedtler’s study (2012) has uncovered transnational links of Jack Johnson to many oppressed groups globally including Aboriginal Australia. This current study places Johnson’s impact upon Aboriginal Australia at the forefront of a shift and awakening awareness of Aboriginal Australians of their global political and racial challenges.


Purpose – We investigated recent efforts of the Australian Football League (AFL) to reintroduce the sport of Australian Football to post-Apartheid South Africa. The chapter adopts a critical approach exploring the difference between the rhetoric of reconciliation and its use as a commercial marketing tool and other agendas that may be at play in international expansion.

Design/methodology/approach – The discussion and research findings outlined in this chapter are based on extensive tape-recorded interviews with Anglo-Australian advocates, African converts and Indigenous Australian critics of the claim to reconciliation as well as field notes collected during the time of visits to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa and Alice Springs, Australia.

Findings – Key themes to emerge from the interviews are presented, cohering around issues of identity, as well as personal and community empowerment through sport, together with the claimed uniqueness of Australian Football to achieve reconciliation in Australia and international contexts such as South Africa.

Research limitations/implications – The limitations of using an ethnographic approach are indicated. This research draws on the qualitative and self-reflective approaches that are characteristic of contemporary indigenous studies where the emphasis is on attempts to allow indigenous people and other marginal voices to speak for themselves.

Originality/value – The chapter provides the first scholarly engagement with the expansion of Australian Football in the new South Africa in the context of the politics of indigenous reconciliation.


Purpose – In this chapter we examine the creation and implementation processes of an arts-based recreation programme for Aboriginal youth development in Canada called Outside Looking In (OLI) to determine if and how OLI’s staff and Board members perceive the programme to be influenced by Eurocentric ideas of programming and the impact this may in turn have on achieving Aboriginal self-determination.

Design/methodology/approach – Informed by postcolonial theory, we employed a case study design and collected data using semi-structured interviews, fieldnotes and a review of archival documents.

Findings – We contend that while OLI reproduces some aspects of Eurocentric programming, it also provides avenues to contribute to Aboriginal self-determination.

Research limitations – A limitation to this research is the absence of interviews with OLI’s programme participants; nevertheless, this research provides a starting point upon which future research can build.

Originality/value – Our research provides an insight into how youth development through recreation programmes for Aboriginal peoples are created and implemented. Most importantly, it provides evidence of the need to further reflect upon the ways in which such programmes can enable Aboriginal self-determination.


Purpose – The chapter reports on a national indigenous games research project and follows the socio-political construction of indigenous games as a sporting code and the post-colonial identity dynamics within South Africa.

Design/methodology/approach – Researchers from 11 tertiary institutions in South Africa collaborated to capture 536 ‘indigenous’ game and sporting activities from 170 communities. An inductive research approach informed an emic typology, with further analysis of the 20 most popular indigenous games (and their variations). This analysis demonstrated hegemonic gender and ethnic layering within the context of participation, as well as in the broader South African society. The institutionalisation of selected indigenous games by Sport and Recreation South Africa and the implementation thereof in the Siyadlala programme (community-based mass participation programme), afforded widespread participation to meet a human rights framework.

Findings – In accordance to the strategic outcomes of the national department, this initiative provided access to sport and recreation, especially for the previously ‘disadvantaged’ communities who experienced high levels of exclusion during the Apartheid years (1948–1994). This politically informed intervention followed a political agenda of national identity association in celebrating the African heritage and ‘unity through diversity’. Standardisation of rules and the re-invention of some games for local, national and international festivals along the line of competitive sport offered contradicting messages and practices.

Originality/value – The underlying discourses of post-colonial resistance, national identity formation and socio-political agendas are interrogated.


Purpose – In this chapter, I explore and argue for a theoretical shift in research about Aboriginal physical activity practices in Canada, from a deficit perspective to a strengths perspective that incorporates practices of hope.

Design/methodology/approach – After briefly describing my concerns about analysing Aboriginal physical activity practices from a deficit perspective, I outline, apply and argue for the benefits of a research approach that begins with a strengths perspective and incorporates practices of hope.

Findings – I argue that all individuals have strengths and places where they can exercise power. An adoption of complementary power relations framed within the practices of hope, which include availability and listening with an openness to co-transformation, further clarifies how to adopt a strengths perspective analysis of Aboriginal physical activity practices.

Originality/value – In adopting a strengths perspective, I am committed to actively identifying existing strengths as a starting point, along with resources that can be used to further those strengths. Strengths are then used to address identified barriers to physical activity. The practices of hope outline how non-Aboriginal allies can work alongside Aboriginal individuals to co-transform physical activity in a manner that enhances physical activity practices for all those involved.


Purpose – This chapter examines how and why the continued use of Indianness in sport makes many American Indians uneasy and then turns to consider the manner in which Native Americans have assisted with and even endorsed such monikers and mascots.

Design/methodology/approach – The current study employs interpretive approaches common in cultural studies (broadly defined). It offers textual readings of historical incidences as well as ethnographic readings of current events.

Findings – The key findings of the study offer new insights into the multiple and often competing ways in which indigenous athletes, fans, and communities interpret Native American mascots, stressing the overlooked role of American Indians who enact and endorse them.

Research limitations/implications – The focus on the use of indigeneity in the United States is the key limitation of the current research.

Originality/value – The central contribution of this work lies in its attention to the social significance and cultural politics of indigenous interpretations of American Indian mascots. In particular, it explores the complexities and contradictions central to such interpretations, stressing the unappreciated role of expectations and the pronounced uneasiness at their core.

Publication date
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Sport
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN