Opportunities Denied: The Divergent Resonance of Opportunity for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Hockey Players With the Now-Disbanded Beardy’s Blackhawks

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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  • 1 Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
  • | 2 Department of English Language & Literature, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada
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For 25 years, the Beardy’s Blackhawks were Canada’s only U18 AAA hockey team located on and operated by a First Nation. The team encouraged young, Indigenous athletes to take pride in their cultural heritage and offered a sense of belonging and acceptance while also providing an opportunity for non-Indigenous players to play in such an environment. In 2019, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association made the decision to eliminate the Blackhawks from the league, describing their removal as a need to address “league concerns” related to billeting and younger player development. The purpose of this article is to analyze differences in how opportunity is understood and experienced by final-roster players (2019/2020 hockey season) and past alumni and, particularly, how it diverged across racial and cultural axes. What is found through semistructured interviews is that the concept of opportunity shifts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous players: Whereas Indigenous players tend to view opportunity in relation to cultural pride, non-Indigenous players view opportunity primarily in relation to future hockey opportunities. We argue that specific elite sporting opportunities that are characterized by Indigenous values are needed for a greater and more diverse range of Indigenous athletes to succeed in elite sport.

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