National Indigenous History Month

 

Photo courtesy Government of Canada

June is National Indigenous History Month. 

We celebrate the history of Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples by highlighting the achievements of Indigenous skaters. We also take a difficult look at the impacts of colonization and discrimination.

This research was conducted in Mi’kma’ki , the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. This territory is covered by the Treaties of Peace and Friendship which Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) People first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with the surrender of lands and resources but in fact, recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) titles and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.

TIMELINE

Circa 1604 - Samuel de Champlain, a member of Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons' expedition to North America, wrote of the ease with which Canada's Indigenous people crossed the ice, mentioning not their skates - but their sledges, which were made of yellow birch or maple: "We left this place, walking on the river which was frozen over and on the ice-covered lakes and ponds and through the woods, for the space of nineteen days, which was not without much labour and toil, both for the [Indigenous people], who were loaded with a hundred pounds' weight each, and also for myself who carried the weight of twenty pounds... In order to cross the ice more easily they are in the habit of making a kind of wooden sledge, on which they place their loads and draw them behind them without any difficulty, and they go along very quickly." He also described the Indigenous people attaching "a kind of racquet, two or three times as large as those in France" to their feet to traverse treacherous conditions in the winters. Champlain's latter description is more akin to that of a snowshoe, not a skate.

1616: A letter from Jesuit missionary Pierre Biard to King Louis XIII recounted how the colonists of New France had taken up a primitive form of ice skating while establishing settlements at Port Royal and St. Croix: "Of all Sieur de Monts's people who wintered first at Sainte Croix, only eleven remained well. These were a jolly company of hunters, who preferred rabbit hunting to the air of the fireside; skating on the ponds to turning over lazily in bed; making snowballs to bring down the game, to sitting around the fire talking about Paris and its good cooks." Oral history suggests the French colonists learned this from the Mi'kmaq people, whose word for ice skate was na'qum or na'goqum.  

1864 - The memoirs of Nicolas Perrot, a French fur trader who passed away in Quebec in 1717, were published in France. Perrot recounted the traditions of the Algonquin people thusly: "If in winter they have to make an extraordinary journey upon the ice, there is a certain spirit they invoke for this purpose, called by the Algonkins Mateomek, to whom they similarly offer tobacco-smoke, praying him to be favourable to them and propitious during their march." The Algonquin word for ice is mikwam.

1860's-1990's - From early skating masquerade balls in Montreal, Toronto and Halifax to year-end club carnivals and ice shows from British Columbia to Newfoundland, Caucasian skaters perpetuated stereotypes by dressing up as caricatures of Indigenous people. 

1870's-1960's - Indigenous skaters had to contend with the same discriminatory membership policies at skating clubs that effectively barred skaters of colour, as well as skaters of Asian and Jewish heritage. To join many skating clubs in the early twentieth century, you needed your application to be endorsed by a member. Memberships were almost exclusively white and Christian.

Skaters at the Bishop Horden Hall residential school in Northern Ontario
Skaters at the Bishop Horden Hall Residential School in Northern Ontario. Photo courtesy National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

1870's-1990's - Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools did not have the freedom or access to join many skating clubs and organized figure skating programs. 

1951 - Andra McLaughlin, a talented American figure skater who had gained popularity for an 'Indian War Dance' exhibition program, was honoured by the Squamish people in a special ceremony in British Columbia. She represented the United States at three World Championships and went on to tour with Sonja Henie's Hollywood Ice Revue and the Ice Follies.

Figure skater Andra McLaughlin with Squamish people of British Columbia in 1951
Photo courtesy "The Native Voice"

1970 - The first Arctic Winter Games were held in Yellowknife. Figure skaters from The Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska participated. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau attended the Opening Ceremony. The Inututt word for ice skate is annikittuk.

1972 - The Kainai Nation in southern Alberta hosted the Western Canada Native Winter Games.

1974 - An ice skating rink was opened on the territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora) in Ohsweken, Ontario. The following year, a reserve-based skating club was formed. It became a CFSA-recognized club in May of 1976.

The 1979 Iroquois Maidens Precision Figure Skating team
The 1979 Iroquois Maidens Precision Figure Skating team. Photo courtesy Six Nations Public Library.

1987 - Two synchro teams from the Six Nations Figure Skating Club competed at the International Precision Skating Competition in Lake Placid.

1995 - The Cape Dorset Figure Skating Club was founded in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. The club established a sister club relationship with the Stephenville Skating Club in Newfoundland. When the Cape Dorset skaters needed skates, the Newfoundlanders took up a collection and shipped them up. In turn, the Nunavut club sent down Inuit art that the club could auction off to fundraise.

2001 - The Six Nations Iroquois Traditions made history as the first all-Indigenous synchro skating team to participate in the Canadian Festival Stream Championships.

2004 - Leif Gislason, a Manitoba skater of Métis heritage, won a silver medal in the junior ice dance event at the Canadian Championships. He was a recipient of that year's Xerox Annual Aboriginal Scholarship Program.

2008 - For the first time, figure skating competitions were included in the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife. Skaters were divided into four levels and there was a women's team event.

Logo for the Arctic Winter Games

2008-2015 - The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued five calls to action that pertained to sport. Among them were calls for public education about Indigenous athletes, funding for the athlete development and the North American Indigenous Games, amendments to the Physical Activity and Sport Act and engagement in planning and participation in international sporting events.

2012 - The Fort William First Nation opened an arena on its sacred land on the Kaministiquia River in Ontario. This rink played host to the Fort William Figure Skating Club, which later merged with the Thunder Bay Figure Skating Club.

2016 - Ontario siblings Jordan and Breanne Derochie both won gold medals at the Northern Ontario Sectional Championships. Their family is of Anishinaabe and Métis heritage.

Shaelene Katrayan and Jordan Derochie

2018 - The Northern Lights School Of Skating was founded at the skating rink on the sacred lands of the Couchiching First Nation near Fort Frances, Ontario.

2020 - The Skate Canada Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Group was formed. The following year, Skate Canada celebrated National Indigenous History Month by highlighting the stories of Indigenous skaters as part of its Community Story Series.

2020 - In an effort to decolonize its terminology, Skate Canada renamed the Mohawk and Choctaw steps. Learn more about How The Mohawk Got Its Name here.

2021 - Thirteen-year-old Hillary Birkett of the Métis Nation was a recipient of the British Columbian Premier's Awards for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sport.

Lily Hensen and Nathan Lickers. Video courtesy On Ice Perspectives.

2023 - Nathan Lickers and his partner Lily Hensen won the silver medal in the senior ice dance event at the Skate Canada Challenge and skated their way to a top-ten finish at the Canadian Championships. Lickers is Haudenosaunee Seneca, from the Six Nations of the Grand River.