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The Greatest Indigenous-Canadian Athletes Day 3: Alwyn Morris

Zach Friedman

As part of Radio Western’s Indigenous Awareness Week, the sports department continues its six-part series on the greatest Indigenous-Canadian Athletes. Today the series continues with Olympic kayaker Alwyn Morris.

Alwyn Morris was born in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, just south of Montreal, Quebec. Morris lived with his grandparents, taking care of his grandfather, who had fallen ill. Morris would watch Olympic events such as canoeing with his grandfather. Infatuated by the sport, his grandfather encouraged him and ultimately served as a role model to assist Morris in reaching elite status.

Morris’ journey began when a rowing club opened near Kahnawake, and he decided to pursue kayaking professionally. In 1977, Morris started gaining notoriety after winning the Canadian National Junior Championship in the K-1 (one kayaker) 1000m sprint, as well as the 500m, and was invited to try out for the Canadian Olympic team. To try out for the team, Morris had to move to Burnaby, British Columbia. It was there he met his future Olympic kayaking partner, Hugh Fisher.

While he did not make the team, that did not break Morris’ spirit, he continued to compete and dominate the Canadian kayak races. From 1980-1984, Morris won six consecutive Canadian championships in K-1 and earned silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in K-2. In 1984, Alwyn Morris finally got his chance to compete in the Olympics, participating in the K-2 races with Hugh Fisher. The pair won gold in the 1000m sprint and bronze in the 500m.

After winning gold, on the podium, Morris held up an eagle feather, which is now known as one of the most iconic moments in Canadian Olympic history. Morris used the eagle feather as a way to salute his grandparents, specifically his grandfather – his role model – who had previously passed away, but more importantly, the feather was a nod to all Indigenous people across Canada acknowledging this is as much their victory as it is his own. Morris’ career is immortalized with his induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Following his athletic career, Morris entered the political realm, specifically in matters regarding Indigenous self-governance. He is an active member of the Mohawk Council in his hometown of Kahnawake and provides political advice on land issues and Indigenous rights.

Morris also founded the Aboriginal Sport Circle, an organization focused on issues of accessibility to sport and recreation facilities for Aboriginal peoples. He also worked with Health and Welfare Canada’s Native Drug Abuse Program, serving as the program’s first role model. For his work in the Drug Abuse Program as well as his athletic career, Morris was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1985.

Morris’ story is one that inspires hope in Indigenous youth across the country, exemplifying that no dream is too big. He continues to be a leader and a role model in the Indigenous community.