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Doug George-Kanentiio: It's time for Native Olympic hockey

Filed Under: Opinion | Sports
More on: doug george-kanentiio, hockey, sovereignty

John Chabot, former National Hockey League player and citizen of the Algonquin nation, has an idea whose time has come. He believes that the indigenous nations of North America have the talent to form a men's hockey team capable of playing on the international level and by rights should be represented at the Olympic Games.

Currently, the NHL has a number of Native players who could form the nucleus of such a team and would immediately prove to be highly competitive. Players like Corey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Cody McCormick of the Buffalo Sabres, Jordon Nolan of the Los Angeles Kings and his teammate Dwight King.

There is also DJ King of the Washington Capitals, Rene Borque of the Canadiens, Sheldon Souray of the Anaheim Ducks and Jordin Tootoo of the Detroit Red Wings. Add to this Wade Redden, Chris Simon, Jonathan Cheechoo then include a number of excellent minor league and college players with the result that an all aboriginal team would have the talent to skate with any other nation.

That a Native Nation has the standing to be represented at the Olympics has already been established. In 1904 the Mohawk Nation sent a men's lacrosse team to the Games in St. Louis, Missouri. Lacrosse was discontinued as an Olympic sport after 1908 (very odd given it is Canada's national sport) but exhibition games were held at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles where the Iroquois fielded an all star team. My uncle, Angus "Shine" George was on that team which attracted thousands of spectators but despite this popular draw the governing Olympic Committee was not persuaded that the game was sufficiently international in scope to warrant official status.

The current exclusion of lacrosse as an Olympic sport cannot be sustained. Dozens of countries field national teams with the world championships held every four years-many more than play hockey. Perhaps lacrosse is omitted because there is a team which is ranked as one of the best on the planet, is all Native, travels on its own passport and under its own flag.

That team is the Iroquois Nationals. Since 1983 the Nationals have taken serious runs at the US and Canada, securing the silver at the 2011 box lacrosse tournament in the Czech Republic and the bronze at the 2012 World Junior Lacrosse Tournament in Finland. Not too bad when the Iroquois have a player pool of 1,000 from a total population of 40,000. This in contrast to the hundreds of thousands of lacrosse players in the US and Canada, countries who can draw upon 400 college teams, over 1,500 high school teams, 4,000 youth leagues and hundreds of club teams now playing the game from California to Texas, Vancouver to Montreal.

An aboriginal hockey team at the Olympics would be based on legal reality. Entities like Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, Taiwan, Hong Kong, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Cook Islands and a group called the Independent Olympic Athletes all send representatives to the Games when their national status is far more ambiguous than that of the native peoples of North America.

Native nations have formal documents by which Canada, Britain, France and the United States have acknowledged their standing as sovereign entities. These contracts, or treaties, form the foundation upon which the European powers created their nation states on this continent. They are compacts binding under domestic and international law and have been sustained by the United Nations. These treaties were cited by the Iroquois Nationals when they successfully petitioned to be included as a national team by the International Federation of Lacrosse which now has 38 members including Peru, Estonia, Turkey, Thailand, Bermuda and Israel.

The IFL is truly multi-national in scope and when it hosts the 2014 World Championships in London, Ontario the Iroquois Nationals will be there, marching into the stadium with its purple and white banner in front. The team is favored to medal this year and perhaps defeat both Canadians and Americans for lacrosse, like hockey, is an invention of the aboriginal peoples who have given both these sports as gifts to the world.

So in the spirit of past NHL aboriginal greats like George Armstrong, Theoren Fleury, Reggie Leach, Bryan Trottier, Stan Jonathan, Gino Odjick and Fred Sasakamoose it is time for an all aboriginal men's hockey team to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. To carry their flag should be John Chabot, the man who has the audacious dream to restore the pride and dignity of all Native peoples by taking part in what is rightfully our game.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A founding member of the Native American Journalists Association he served on the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian. He is the author of many books and articles about aboriginal people including "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol or by calling 315-415-7288.

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