________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


Great Athletes from our First Nations. (A First Nations Book for Young Readers).

Vincent Schilling.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2007.
125 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-0-9779183-0-0.

Subject Headings:
Indian athletes-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Indian athletes-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

***½ /4


Alwyn Morris

            Olympic Kayaker

Standing on the Olympic podium to receive a gold medal is probably the peak of any athlete’s career. When kayaker Alwyn Morris stood there at the 1984 summer Olympics medal ceremonies, he proudly held aloft an eagle feather to honour those who had helped him achieve his dream – his family, his Mohawk ancestors, and Canada. Alwyn and his partner, Hugh Fisher, won both bronze and gold medals for their efforts that year.


Via entries that are eight to ten pages long, Schilling identifies 13 athletes, four of them female, who have achieved at a very high level in an amateur or professional sport, either as an individual or as part of a team. Beyond their athletic ability, what unites this baker’s dozen is that are all members of various tribal nations indigenous to Canada and the United States, and they can all serve as role models for today’s youth, especially those of First Nations ancestry.

     Author Schilling is to be commended for the variety of sports he has included, sports which range from individual events like downhill speed skiing (Ross Anderson) and professional 10-pin bowling (Mike Edwards) to team sports such as professional lacrosse (Delby Powless), basketball (Richard Dionne), hockey (Jordin Tootoo, the book’s only Inuit) and baseball (Beau Kemp). The book’s four women consist of Cheri Becerra-Madsen (a wheelchair racing Olympian), Naomi Lang (an Olympian pairs ice dancer), Shelly Hruska (the book’s sole Métis and a member of Team Canada’s world ringette champion team) and Stephanie Murata (an eight-time US Women’s National Wrestling Champion).

     Only one of the book’s entries, that for Jim Thorpe, could be described as being essentially historical in its contents while the remaining 12 individuals are, in the main, still involved in their sports. Most of these athletes have also been pathfinders in the sense that they are the first Native Americans to participate in a specific sport, a fact that Schilling points out in his text.

In 2001, he [Cory Witherill] became the first Native American driver to race in the Indianapolis 500. (From “Cory Witherill Indy Race Car Driver.”)

     The very readable entries are essentially written in third person though some do include quotes from the athlete or a family member. Some of the entries speak to the discrimination that these First Nations athletes have encountered from spectators, opponents and sometimes even teammates. Schilling consistently underlines that these athletes have eschewed alcohol and drugs, and he describes how virtually all of them have tried to give something back to their people. For example:

Cory’s biggest dream, however, is to stop the rise of diabetes among Native Americans. In 2003, he created a program called Team Diabetes Racing (TDR) to encourage Native Americans to take control of their health. He travels around the country making presentations to raise awareness about diabetes and the importance of exercise and proper diet. (From “Cory Witherill Indy Race Car Driver.”)

     Each entry also includes two small fact boxes, with one providing a bit of information about the athlete’s sport and the other information about the athlete’s tribal group or home reservation. The 13 entries are illustrated by black and white photographs which range in number from two to five for each person.

     The full-colour cover will undoubtedly attract readers to the book’s contents, but, given that the work’s audience could extend through high school, it’s unfortunate that wording on the book cover includes the series’ title since the words “for young readers” might unnecessarily deter some potential “older” readers. The constraints of the book’s length also meant that Schilling could just provide a brief overview of each athlete’s life in this collective biography. Hopefully, someone will return to a number of these people and write individual biographies as Schilling’s glimpse into their lives will undoubtedly leave readers wanting more.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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