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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Social Movements, Class and Power: "Olympics! Meet War Canoe Racing"

Indigenous Stream War Canoe Racing
Mainstream/Whitestream War Canoe Racing

What makes a social movement different from say, a wedding committee or a social group?


In the book Social Movements By Suzanne Staggenborg and Howard Ramos it says “most social movement scholars would agree that social movements “are collective efforts, of some duration and organization, using non-institutionalized methods to bring about social change” (Flacks, 2005:5). This creates a difference between a social movement and say, a wedding committee or social group. Whereas the latter is   gathering together that amounts to a collective activity.

In my own experience, another example of a social movement versus a social group can be seen in the Canadian sport system. Let me use the example of “war canoe” racing in the sport of canoe/kayak and with it come a number of sociological problems.


Social Movements - As a result of the Canadian “Indian” residential school system, First Nations people are trying to reconnect with their culture. A symbolic part of their culture is the canoe and specifically the “war canoe” where First Nations people of Canada went to war using these canoes against other tribes pre-colonisation. A small group of Coast Salish families on the west coast of Canada race “Indian War Canoes”. The problems include those of the origin of race, class and culture in society. Over the past decade, despite a collective social movement against the Government Institutions of Canada, methods including; a) newspaper articles, b)  letters to politicians, c) online petitions and d) the filling a human rights complaint against the institution of CanoeKayak Canada (Formerly known as the Canadian Canoe Association - CCA). This organization disregards the Indigenous stream of “war canoe” racing in preference of their own version of “mainstream/whitestream” “war canoe” racing in what academics refer to as the “Double Helix” sport system adopted by the Federal Government of Sport Canada.

Collective Activities - The mainstream sport of “war canoe” racing is a predominantly white sport in Canada. We know from history that white people didn’t go to war in a canoe and as a result is not part of their cultural makeup. Therefore it is just a group of white people who race “war canoes” which amounts to a collective activity. Despite this fact, it didn't stop Hugues Fournel, an Olympic Kayaker from saying “Everybody's screaming and you feel like you are in a war and thats why its called war canoe and it's one of the oldest, oldest races we do in Canada”.

What relevance does social class have for the study of social movements?
According to Christian Fuchs there is relevance that social class has on the study of social movements. Fuchs wrote the paper Social Movements and Class Analysis, Vienna University of Technology. His paper focused on empirical evidence from 1981 to 1997 from 15 different countries. Fuchs says “The results show that cultural and economic capital are important factors in mobilizing or demobilizing protest, that the new knowledge and service class is the most active group in protest, and that there continues to be a significant political left-right distinction concerning protest activities.”.

In my own experience in regards to War Canoe racing is the Institution CanoeKayak Canada, which overseas the pathway to the Olympics via theInternational Canoe Federation, has all the federal money to put them in a class of their own compared to the Indigenous population of Canada. For example they can get CBC news to write articles about their colonial version of the war canoe - such as seen when CBC Nova Scotia journalist Nina Corfu wrote an article called “New $25K war canoe gives Banook paddlers edge in 'very Canadian' sport”.  They also get Television attention by putting their Olympians on to make statements such as Hugues Fournel, an Olympic Kayaker said “Every kid, every club, if you’re in a canoe club somewhere in Canada, you’re for sure going to do War Canoe.” The reporter says, that the mainstream/whitestream “war canoe” “is considered the cadillac of canoes, that Fournel and Ontario’s Taylor Potts, a gold medal winner here as a stepping stone at the club level for their success.” Their narrative simply drowns out the Indigenous one on the topic and they see nothing wrong as a result.

What is power? Why is it important to analyse power when looking at social movements?
Typically power is the ability to accumulate labour hours. However, power can take different meanings in a social movement. For example, the Windspeaker is an Indigenous newspaper.  In the Windspeaker newspaper article called “Olympics! Meet war canoe racing.” by Sam Lakaris in 2003 writes about a Coast Saalish man on Vancouver Island. - “If Derrick George had a wish, it would be to see the sport of war canoe racing added to the Summer Olympics' roster of activities.” When Sam Lakaris writes “For starters, George will have to get the support of the Canadian Canoe Association (CCA). But John Edwards, the CCA's domestic program director, said he knows nothing about George's initiative. "I haven't heard anything about this," he said. "That's all news to us. But we're all the way out here in Ottawa."” he does not mention that the same John Edwards is also a) trying to get his institutions version of the “war canoe” to the Olympics and b) John Edwards sits on the board of directors of the International Canoe Federation which is affiliated with the Olympic committee for the sport of canoe. In 2012, the CCA would be successful in bringing a group of white only participants to demonstrate their own version of the“War Canoe” to the London 2012 Games as seen in the Globe and Mail, leaving the Indigenous peoples of Canada excluded, despite knowing their intent and wishes to bring their own war canoe to the Olympics. John Edwards was in a position of power to reasonably help Derrick George with his dreams, however took his own Institutions interest in lieu forward as seen at the London games at the 2012 Olympics.

It is important to analyse power when looking at social movements because when combined with class, it becomes clear how Fuchs was correct in his final analysis in his paper  Social Movements and Class Analysis, Vienna University of Technology where in this case the Institution CanoeKayak Canada has the class and power to “demobilize the protest” where those who oppose have no chance to mobilize against them.


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