Just a Little Offside: Beardy’s Blackhawks and the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League

Conference Highlights, Panels and Plenary, Regular Sessions
Indigenous-Settler Relations and Decolonization, Sociology of Sport

On Nov. 12, 2019, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) made public its decision to eliminate the Beardy’s Blackhawks Midget AAA hockey program from Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation, one of the largest First Nations in Saskatchewan. It was the only Midget AAA franchise in Canada run by and on a First Nations reserve. This panel uses the Beardy’s Blackhawks as a case study for considering hockey’s relationship to settler colonialism in Canada and for thinking through strategies for combating anti-Indigenous racism in sport, while mobilizing sport as a tool for Indigenous empowerment and possible reconciliation. The decision to eliminate a uniquely Saskatchewan opportunity for cross-cultural exchange among Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth and their families has implications that were felt by players and parents over the past year, and the decision is a direct contradiction to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action 88, 89 and 90. The TRC insists that government and sport associations “take action to ensure long-term Aboriginal athlete development and growth,” to reduce “barriers to sports participation” for Indigenous athletes, and to ensure “anti-racism awareness and training for non-Indigenous athletes.” Members of the Indigenous Hockey Research Network have been working with current and former Blackhawks players and their families for the past year, where many players have reported a deep sense of community and personal growth nurtured by a sporting environment informed by Indigenous values.  This panel draws together established and emerging scholars of Indigenous Studies, sport sociology, and anthropology to grapple with these concerns.



Jordan Koch, Faculty of Education and Kinesiology, McGill University

For over 25 years, the Beardy’s Blackhawks hockey club offered scores of young men and their families a unique opportunity to play elite-level hockey for a First Nations reserve in Canada. Interviews with both Indigenous and settler players and their family members reveal a deeply rooted sense of community cultivated though players’ prolonged exposure to a sport setting inflected with Indigenous values. Our interviews further revealed how this exposure also contributed to the dismantling of stereotypes among non-Indigenous players who, with caged faces and the Blackhawks logo on their chest, briefly experienced what it is like to be racially-coded as Indigenous in this country.

 “Just shake it off” – Manufacturing compliance with anti-Indigenous racism in hockey

Sam McKegney, Department of English, Queen’s University

Interviews with Indigenous and settler players on the Beardy’s Blackhawks hockey club, as well as with those players’ parents, unanimously acknowledge racism directed at Indigenous players during the team’s present season. More insidiously, the interviews register social pressures within hockey culture that discourage reactions to such racism and thereby condition acquiessence to and potential reproduction of oppressive colonial conditions. As one First Nation parent states, “you just kind of get used to it and … either shrug it off or retaliate. We’ve really chosen to shrug it off for the most part.” This ruminates on the manufacture of compliance in order to interrogate the internalization of various tropes in hockey culture that, we argue, conspire to sustain racialized oppression in the game. In doing so, we advocate for the implementation of decolonial anti-racism strategies at all levels of the sport.

“More Than Just a Hockey Program”: Exploring the Experiences of Beardy’s Blackhawks Alumni

Mika Rathwell, Department of Anthropology and Archeology, University of Saskatchewan

For 25 years, the Beardy’s Blackhawks have brought together young Indigenous and non-Indigenous hockey players to play for Canada’s only Midget AAA franchise run by and on a First Nations reserve. By incorporating Indigenous values and challenging pervasive settler preconceptions about Indigenous peoples and communities, involvement with the team has encouraged both present and past players to negotiate their own role within Canada’s ongoing reconciliation efforts and has offered many Indigenous players the opportunity to play elite level hockey. This paper explores the unique experiences of Beardy’s Blackhawks alumni playing for what one former player, Craig McCallum, described in a recent radio interview as “more than just a hockey program”.

“We got the Native flu”: SMAAAHL and Settler Colonial Logic in Practice

Robert Henry, Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan

In October of 2019, after 25 years of participating in the SMAAAHL, the Beardy’s Midget AAA Blackhawks – the only Midget AAA team located on a First Nations community in Canada – received notice that they had lost their team and that it was going to be relocated to a community 40km south to a small city 10km north of Saskatoon. This paper examines how the reasoning of the move was justified around safety and concern for the development of players; however, upon closer examination, it can be seen that the criteria used to assess team locations was not used equally across the province. Secondly, the uniqueness that made Beardy’s a place to go and play for Indigenous hockey players, who have stated that they would not otherwise have continued to play, was never taken into consideration, ignoring calls within the TRC to support elite sport opportunities for Indigenous youth in Canada and continuing to support settler colonial logics of erasure that maintain hockey as the game of the ‘great ‘white’ north’.


Tags: Indigenous Studies, Sport

Organizers: Robert Henry, University of Saskatchewan, Sam McKegney, Queen's University