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Coming to a city near you – the Pan Am Games! Everyone with an interest in sports is getting in gear for this big event. On the whole, Canadians are a very sports-minded bunch. However, there is one aspect of sports that has been largely forgotten – our Aboriginal athletes who have brought honour to Canada in many fields.

When you say “Aboriginal athletes”, most people think first of Tom Longboat, an Onandaga runner from the Grand River Reserve at Brantford, which makes him almost a “local”. Longboat, born in 1887, won the Hamilton Around-the-Bay Road Race, the Toronto Ward’s Marathon, the New York World’s Professional Marathon Championship, and the Powderhall Marathon in Edinburgh, Scotland. He competed in the 1908 Olympics, before turning pro. He served in France during the First World War as a runner, and later was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Indian Hall of Fame. No wonder his birthday, June 4 has been declared Tom Longboat Day by the provincial legislature.

Another great Aboriginal athlete was Fred Simpson from Alderville, Ontario. He didn’t start running competitively until the age of 28 when he won the Peterborough Examiner Road Race. By 1908, he was one of the top runners in the world. Both he and Longboat competed in the 1908 marathon at the Olympic Games in London, England. Simpson placed sixth. Longboat did not finish due to heat stroke.

Aboriginal teams also excelled at their own game, lacrosse, although in 1880 their teams were banned from amateur competitions by the National Amateur Lacrosse Association. Nevertheless, they formed their own association and continued to play and compete in their own World Championships.

For generations, Mohawks from the Akwesasne Reservations along the St. Lawrence Valley have produced and distributed most of the best wooden lacrosse sticks made.

Aboriginal athletes have also excelled in hockey. For example, Ted Nolan is an Ojibwe from Garden River, Ontario. He won the Jack Adams Award while coaching the Buffalo Sabres in the 1996-97 season, and subsequently became coach and vice-president of hockey operations in the AHL. His sons Brandon and Jordan also play professional hockey.

Jordin Tootoo was the first Inuk athlete to become a pro hockey player in the NHL. His older brother, Terrance Tootoo also played in the NHL.

There must be many more stories of Aboriginal success in the field of sports. We just don’t know about them. However, Aboriginal athletes have added richly to the woof and weave of Canadian sports. The least we can do is remember all of them on Thursday, June 4, Tom Longboat Day.

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