Monday, March 1, 2010

Tribalism Redux

Humanity likes its tribes. We try to pretend we’re beyond that, so modern, so technologically and emotionally advanced, but the Olympics are really just a giant display of tribalism writ large. It was never more apparent to me than watching the hockey game yesterday. I found it extremely interesting that all of my onkwehonwe friends could put aside our unease and our unrest at having to be indigenous people in this colonial construct, and for a couple of hours unite with everyone else across this northern part of Turtle Island.

There we were, wearing our hearts on our sleeves right beside our settler neighbours watching the beauty of that fast, skillful game played between two political and cultural entities, those players being the true avatars of our national prowess and passion. And what a glorious victory that was, in overtime against the giant eagle to the south who played with military precision, roughshod menace, and with the heart of that rebellious spark that gave rise to their nation. But our boys were disciplined, skillful, industrious – all those things that Canadians pride themselves on. And the defining moment, with the nation’s favourite son making the most of a hastily-passed puck and firing it past the American magician who manned their net – it was truly a magical moment. It was pretty damn cool.

And the celebration afterward – I had to run to a 24 hour drug store for my stomach-flu ridden daughter and the only one still open was on Yonge Street, and I was pulled in to utter pandemonium trying to get into the store. It was a sea of red and white and complete strangers high-fiving me. I even got bear-hugged by a giant white boy in a cowboy hat – talk about symbolism. For a beautiful shining moment, I felt like this nation could escape its colonial past, embrace true inclusiveness, and become something bigger and brilliant than it actually is.

And then I woke up this morning, and everything was the same.

Oh well. For the briefest of moments, it felt like Canada could be something bigger. That we could all be something bigger. That was pretty darn intoxicating.

Such is the power of sport. Bread and circuses, sustenance for the tribes. It always goes back to that – where do your tribal loyalties lie? And what is it you will rally around, make part of your identity and your culture and your way of life?

Then I remember – hockey was originally an Iroquoian women's sport, designed to be played in the winter when there wasn’t much to do, so that everybody could get outside for some fresh air and the women could shriek and holler and trip each other on the ice, and the men could get to see what the newly-grown girls were looking like, and look forward to the spring when they could pay court. Lacrosse, the little brother of war, is the men’s game.

So hockey is now played by the colonizer with a national pride and fervour bordering on obsessiveness and considered a man’s game, when in reality... That’s why it was so cool to see Canadian women winning the gold, and totally dominating the field when they had their ice time. Now that’s what I call a woman’s game.