The power to define: A history of the Tom Longboat Awards, 1951--2001

Janice Margaret Forsyth
Dept. of Kinesiology, University of Western Ontario
July, 2005


Much has been written about Tom Longboat, the athlete, with little attention paid to the awards that bear his name. Established in 1951, the Tom Longboat Awards have come to symbolize Native excellence in Canadian sport. Since that time, more than 230 athletes have been recognized as Tom Longboat Award recipients at both the regional and national level. Beginning with an analysis of how unequal power relations have shaped Native sport practices in Canada, this study examines the development, implementation, and management of the Tom Longboat Awards from their inception in 1951 to 2001. During this fifty-year time period, responsibility for the awards shifted several times, from Indian Affairs and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada (1951-1972), to the National Indian Brotherhood/Assembly of First Nations and Canadian Amateur Sports Federation (1973-1998), and finally to the Aboriginal Sport Circle (1999-2001). Specifically, this study focuses on why the awards were established in 1951, what they symbolized through the years, and the meanings that are attached to the awards now, more than five decades later. This analysis demonstrates that while the Tom Longboat Awards instill pride in Native athletic accomplishments, they also reinforce a hierarchy in sport that places the greatest value on mainstream sport and the accomplishments accumulated within that system. As Native people have increasingly gained access to the mainstream sport system, they have had to make a number of significant compromises in order to remain active players in that environment. Several methods of data collection were utilized, including oral interviews with Jan Eisenhardt, originator of the Tom Longboat Awards, as well as seven Tom Longboat recipients from the Ontario region, critical autobiography, and historical research in the National Archives of Canada, the Department of Indian Affairs, the Assembly of First Nations, the Woodland Cultural Centre, and the personal archives of Jan Eisenhardt.