Power, policies, and politics: Women's involvement in Dene games in the Northwest Territories

Audrey Rhiannon Giles
Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta
July, 2005


Investigations of sport and recreation in Canada have, with very few exceptions, been limited to the portion of our country that borders the United States. Sport history, sport sociology, and the few sport anthropology texts that exist virtually ignore the recent developments in sport and recreation above the 60th parallel, particularly those that pertain to women. As a result, the current study of sport and recreation in Canada is incomplete and continues a tradition of giving voice to dominant groups while marginalizing the experiences of minority groups and women. However, the stories of those who do not comfortably reside in Eurocanadian society need to be shared. As Denis (1997) points out, Eurocanadians could benefit from discovering that they, in fact, have something to learn from Aboriginal peoples' ways; traditions surrounding Dene women's participation in physical practices are no exception. This dissertation examines how competing notions of both tradition and community in Dene settlements create tensions for the delivery of and participation in programs involving physical practices, particularly Dene games. The Arctic Winter Games (AWG) is the point of articulation for Dene games and Dene communities. It serves as a paradoxical example of a unique celebration of Northern culture that concomitantly homogenizes Dene practices and people, especially women, through the standardization of Dene games events, thus erasing inter- and intra-community differences in participation. As such, women's involvement in Dene games can be investigated using Foucaultian poststructuralism, notions of tradition, the politics of difference, Berry's (2001) acculturation framework, feminist development theory, and King's (2003) understanding of the ways in which stories operate. Importantly, though, Dene games provide a lens through these very frameworks can be examined. This bidirectional approach towards analysis is taken up in this text, allowing for an interrogation of what is at stake---the power relations and associated complexities---with women's participation in Dene games.