The Indianness of Curling


We’ll take a brief break from talking about hair and braids/whether carpets match drapes/mullets hairstyles for a brief second to discuss the Olympics. Specifically, I want to briefly (and I do mean briefly) discuss the fine and demanding sport of curling at the Olympics. I sit–late at night, between episodes of King of the Hill and Family Guy–and marvel at the physical specimens that are curlers. Buff. Lithe. Virile. Powerful.

Now seriously, I’ve actually watched the curling exhibitions with bated breath. Granted, I only recently (e.g. yesterday) learned that there are a few people in countries other than Canadians who curl in this world. That was surprising. Still, I do not doubt the level of skill–as opposed to athletic ability–it takes to be a successful curler (call me a “purist,” but I tend to see stuff like bowling, pool, curling and poker as slightly more “gamish” and really so “sportish.”) Yet, despite recognizing the required skill, similar to bobsledding in Jamaica, it’s fair to say that curling is a novelty sport to the vast majority of the rest of the world. I imagine that’s why our friendly Simpsons spoofed the sport last week.

Curling is fun to watch. It’s entertaining. People love the novelty of it. Still, nobody really understands it (how, exactly, do they score??). More important, however, than the fact that nobody understands curling, is that most people simply do not want to understand curling. They want to laugh at the funny pants. They want to laugh at the Fred-Flintstone-Bowling-Approach. They have no incentive to understand curling whatsoever. After all, why invest all this time into understanding curling if we’re only going to pay attention to it once every four years–if that??

In fact, it’s safe to say that the only people who truly care about curling are, well, curlers. And maybe, MAYBE the non-curling families of curlers. And occasionally voyeurs/weirdos like me who cannot sleep late at night. But even though people don’t really CARE about curling, the Olympics NEEDS curling–because a lot of voyeurs and weirdos and true lovers of sports and games strangely love curling.

And even more strangely, the curlers seem fine with people’s ignorance about the sport. They seem comfortable knowing their game is competitive and requires a high level of skill. They know that the average person could not do what they do. All these other winter sports–figure skating, skiing, the luge–get all the attention. But you know what?? The odd, quirky and novel sport of curling is right there–on exactly the same platform as all those other sports.

I see some similarities in Natives.

Native people certainly have compelling stories–if any ethnicity’s narrative deserves to be told, it is ours. As our people’s prospects progress from “nearly extinct” to “stabilizing” to “surviving” and now to “thriving,” it seems natural that other people’s interest in our people would grow. Why wouldn’t it? It seems like reporters and scholars and poets would rush to tell the story of these amazing resilient people who had everything stripped from them–yet continued. And got better. And stronger.

Yet, that story remains untold and our culture remains a novelty. No one cares. Except us. Like curling, truthfully, non-Natives do not want to understand us. They want to occasionally pop into our pow-wows and have photo opportunities with us and tell their grandchildren that they knew a Native at one time. But they do not want to understand us. Just like curling.

And the non-Natives who DO want to join up with us? Some of them have good intentions–those few who just believe in the humanity and beauty of all cultures. But then there are the voyeurs and weirdos–like me with curling. Vultures. They do not want to contribute anything to the culture–they just want siphon off and feel accepted someplace. We know who those people are.

Here’s the punchline: so what if no one pays attention to us? So what if mainstream society eschews our customs, music and story? We are strong. Resilient. Brilliant. Beautiful. We are currently creating structures and institutions within Indian Country–things that will not require a stamp of approval from outside of Indian Country. The average person and race could not do what we have done–we took bad situations and made them beautiful. We made took nasty commodities and made wonderful stew. We took religions forced upon us and melded them with our own and made incredible hybrids. All these other ethnicities get all of the media attention and perks–just like curling has to defer to skiing and slalom and snow angels. Still, we’re right here with them, creating our own destinies.

And we are not supposed to be here.

Think about this: this Nation needs Natives just like the Olympics needs curling. No one else can tell the story that we can tell–the story of this land from the dawn of time. We are crucial to this country’s destiny. Like curling, we do not need the outside world to validate our importance.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 9:00 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well said. This country owes it’s very survival to our people. Just our ancestor’s knowledge of the foods that were indigenous to the Americas changed not the lives of the first European settlers, but the way the world itself eats. What gets my goat is things like the potato, and it’s association with Ireland. It didn’t come from there. It came from the Natives of South America. Yet that is what is always referenced. Our contributions seem to go unnoticed, unless it is useful for a good image or as you said the novelty of a moment… Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

  2. I see the parallel you are making, and of course, as a race Natives are often overlooked and underappreciated (except as a spectacle).

    I think though for most people, the draw to curling is simple: It’s the only Olympic “sport” that there is any hope of being able to participate in during your middle aged years… For those of us who didn’t decide to start swimming/skiing/snowboarding/skating/etc at age 2, Curling provides a little spark of hope, that someday we too could win a medal in the Olympics… 😉

    I also think that maybe you spend a bit too much time thinking about what it means to be Native and too little just living life. I mean, Dude– you have figured out how to somehow make Curling about being Native… Get some sleep! 😉

    • HA HA HA, fair enough Mac–yes, I tend to bring any bit of information into this “Thing About Skins” context. Do I really think like that? Well…here’s the thing: I’m ethnocentric. No question. But I’m also a byproduct of Beavis and Butthead, Family Guy, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, etc. Still, I know that there is enough content out there about other cultures. I’m interested in creating institutions within our own communities–places where we can easily get “Native-centric” content. I’m not gonna complain about what other cultures have. I’m trying to create our own stuff so that we have our own “thing,” on a platform that isn’t traditionally ours.

      Does that make sense? So when I find parallels in curling, it’s because I WANT to find parallels. I think it’s important to see “us” in everyday/mainstream experiences and know that we’re not just relegated to very specific events and contexts.

      • I hear ya. I just think you were reaching a little (well, honestly I think you were reaching a LOT) on this one! 😉

        I like ya though, you make me think. Which on some days I’d rather think about the “Indianness” (which I’m not sure is a word I’ve seen in a dictionary before) of Curling than my normal mundane life!

        Keep ’em coming. 😉

        Much Luv.

  3. I’m a new reader of this blog, going through a bit of the archives, but this article brought me a lot of joy and some good thinking. 🙂

    I’ve been curling since I was 5 years old (translation, way before curling was cool. I mean, it’s not cool now, but at least its nerd cool. That’s a start) and I’ve always felt like one of these days people would appreciate it, but even if they didn’t we…the curlers…knew what we were doing.

    That said, my curler nerdy joy indulged, I love the comparison.

    And, as an ethnically ambiguous mutt dealing with aboriginal issues (although different ones) I’m loving your perspectives and writing.

    And just to get back to the point, I’m giggling like a schoolgirl over the fact that you referenced CURLING.

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