Thomas Ruta

Canada’s “National” Sport: Representations of Lacrosse at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

By Thomas Ruta
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Canada is a country that at its genesis was comprised of more than two cultures, each of which had its own unique language and set of traditions. Although these cultures were united into a single state, there has never been a common ethno linguistic quality or shared past on which the country could found a nation (Des Granges 8). This has manifested itself in constant efforts by the state to construct a pan-Canadian nation that can encompass all people within the country’s vast territory (Des Granges 8). One of the most consistent mediums used to create a nation has been sport, most notably lacrosse. A traditional game of the Aboriginal peoples of the Plains and eastern Woodlands, lacrosse was the most popular sport in North America at the time of European contact (Jette 14). Through a process of amateurization and codification described by Michael A. Robidoux, the game was appropriated by non-Aboriginal Canadians and used to define the Canadian nation.  This is represented in the National Sports Act of Canada (1994), which designates a modernized version of lacrosse one of the country’s national sports. This article draws on the research of Benedict Anderson, who argues that nations are social constructs considered to be homogenous by their members. It discusses the role of sport in the creation and perpetuation of national identities and describes the role of lacrosse in the development of Canadien and later Canadian identity. It then explains the process by which lacrosse was amateurized, modernized and appropriated, illustrates how the National Sports Act created an imagined Canada and finally, it outlines how representations of lacrosse in the Canadian Museum of Civilization fail to contextualize the sport in terms of other socio-economic and cultural shifts throughout Canadian history.

Lacrosse, Appropriation, National Sports Act, Canadian identity

Tom Ruta is an undergraduate student at Carleton University double-majoring in journalism and Canadian studies with a minor in history. His research interests include Canadian national identity, regionalism, historiography and the intercultural encounters between English-, French- and Aboriginal-Canadians in official and popular spheres. He hopes to continue his research on Aboriginal appropriation through graduate studies.

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