The politics and praxis of culturally relevant sport education: empowering urban Aboriginal youth through community sport

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McRae, Heather
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Community sport organizations (CSO) are the most predominant type of nonprofit and voluntary organization in Canada (Gumulka, Barr, Lasby, & Brown-lee, 2005), and, it is vital that researchers recognize the critical, and often contradictory, social roles that these organizations are expected to perform. Community sport is both lauded as a progressive force of individual and community development (Sport for Development and Peace, International Working Group [SDP IWG], 2006) and criticized for reproducing race and class-based stereotypes that marginalize Aboriginal peoples (Canadian Heritage, 2005). Added to these challenges is the fact that sport leaders are expected to negotiate conflicting interests and unequal power relations (see Forester, 1989) while relying on a very limited body of research in which to guide their work in designing, delivering and facilitating culturally relevant sport programs for Aboriginal youth (see Forsyth, Heine & Halas, 2007; Maskawachees Declaration, 2000). Positioned within a transdisciplinary theoretical framework and guided by principles of indigenous research (Schnarch, 2004; Wilson, 2008), I conducted a multi-layered community-based study with sport leaders and youth participants at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Center (WASAC), a successful urban Aboriginal sport organization in Manitoba, Canada. Building on similar research in the area of culturally relevant physical activity and education (e.g., Carpenter, 2009; Forsyth et al., 2007), the purpose of my research was to examine the politics and praxis of culturally relevant sport education (CRSE) – specifically, program planning and leadership practices - as an alternative to deficit-based and culturally inappropriate sport programs for urban Aboriginal youth. Findings reveal that WASAC leaders utilize a complex set of explicit and tacit cultural teachings rooted within a context- and relationship-based approach to program planning and facilitation. Findings also indicate that culturally relevant sport leadership practices are strongly related to the personal, experiential and cultural background and knowledge of sport leaders. The study concludes by suggesting that sport leaders who understand the cultural landscape of urban Aboriginal youth and utilize critical self-reflexive practices are more likely to recognize and build upon the resilience of urban Aboriginal youth while proactively responding to the complex challenges that shape the lives of youth.
Aboriginal youth, community sport, indigenous research, program evaluation, education