The growth of the Tom Longboat Awards has been enabled by the collaboration of different partner organizations during the three phases of the Awards’ history. Based on sports administrator Jan Eisenhardt’s original idea, the Awards were jointly established in 1951 by the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada (AAUC) and the Department of Indian Affairs. These partners looked after the national Awards for the next 20 years. In 1973, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) later named Assembly of First Nations, assumed responsibility for the Awards. Under the guidance of the NIB and the Assembly, the Awards began to more definitively tell the story of Indigenous athletes and their successes in Canadian sport. Beginning in 1999, the Awards came under the guidance of the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC). Since coming under the ASC’s leadership, there is increased Aboriginal input into the nominations, and both a female and a male nominee are awarded annually. Over the past three years, the Awards have been re-energized through the ASC’s collaboration with the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, whose annual Induction Dinner now includes the Tom Longboat Awards Ceremony, considerably raising the profile of Indigenous sport in Canada.
1951-1972: After the 1951 creation of the Tom Longboat Award, the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada and the Department of Indian Affairs worked together to administer the Award. For almost 20 years, the AAUC was responsible for the national award nominations and the Department of Indian Affairs personnel for selections at the regional and local levels. At this time, input by Indigenous representatives was minimal during this period, and the Awards told the story of how Indigenous athletes were successfully integrating into mainstream society. The first award recipient was Frederick Baker from Squamish First Nation, BC, who was recognized for his multi-sport achievements in five different sports. The first woman to win the Award was Phyllis Bomberry, a softball player from the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve, in 1968.
1973-1998: In 1973, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), now the Assembly of First Nations, in collaboration with the Sports Federation of Canada, took over the Tom Longboat Awards. The NIB wanted the Award to amplify Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination, to define their culture’s place in mainstream society on their own terms. In this phase, a significantly greater number of female athletes began to win the award at the local, regional and national levels. In 1976, 13-year-old Beverly Stranger of the Timiskaming First Nation became the second female national winner. As a member of the Canadian team at the 1976 Olympiad for the Physically Disabled, she also represented what we now call para-sports. Reginald Underwood, a member of Vancouver Island’s Tsawout First Nation, also received the award in 1976. Wilton Littlechild, the winner in 1974, went on to become one of Canada’s most influential Indigenous sports leaders in the international arena. In this phase, the Award grew to more formally recognize accomplishments in community service and politics as well as sports.
1998-2019: In 1998, the Aboriginal Sport Circle took over the administration of the annual Tom Longboat Awards. As Canada’s national advocate for Indigenous sports, the ASC formalized the categories for national male and female athletes of the year. Since 2017, the Tom Longboat Awards have become the preeminent recognition of excellence in Aboriginal sport, showcasing the strength and growth of the Aboriginal sport movement within Canada. The national winners are recognized at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame’s annual Induction Ceremony. The 2017 award winners include Métis athlete James Lavallée representing canoe-kayak sprint and Kainai First Nation athlete Joy Spearchief-Morris representing track and field. The 2018 award winners include Nehiyaw athlete Michael Linklater representing 3×3 basketball and Métis athlete Jocelyne Larocque representing ice hockey. The 2019 award winners include Squamish Nation athlete Lyric Athchison representing rugby and Métis athlete Cameron Gayleard representing volleyball.