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Michael Robidoux winced when he heard -- not once, but twice -- the incident referred to as "a tomahawk chop."

The stereotypes were out.

Robidoux, an ethnologist specializing in aboriginal issues at the University of Ottawa, is a former hockey player himself -- a goaltender once drafted into the Canadian major junior leagues -- and has spent years studying the connection between the national game and aboriginals' sense of masculinity.

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When Chris Simon swung that stick, he hit more than just Ryan Hollweg's chin.

This weekend, the New York Islanders' Simon, who is of Ojibwa descent, was suspended by the National Hockey League for a minimum 25 games for his attack on the New York Rangers forward that, fortunately, did not end with Hollweg's head going through the scoreboard clock.

If ever there was an "intent to injure," as the NHL euphemistically calls vicious blows that aren't delivered with fists, this was it.

Forget all the accompanying rhetoric about the difference between reaction and premeditation, forget all the talk about Simon himself perhaps being concussed and therefore not himself, the discussion here is about hockey violence and whatever connection it might or might not have with aboriginal players.

The stereotype that led to Simon's slash being described in certain broadcasts as a "tomahawk" motion -- it was, in fact, far closer to the swing of a baseball bat -- comes from the notion that players of native heritage are expected to be violent on the ice.

Simon is a long-time NHL enforcer at the end of his career -- perhaps now at the very end -- and his coach, Ted Nolan, also of aboriginal descent, was also once an enforcer. The list of native enforcers is long and includes the likes of Gino Odjick, Sandy McCarthy and Stan Jonathan -- a Don Cherry favourite.

Native players scrapping their way to the NHL is a common story. Even those who eventually emerge as skilled players often reach that level first through their physical play.

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Michael Robidoux, however, is here to tell you that the Simon incident is "more about the National Hockey League and its hypocrisy where violence is concerned than it is about First Nations hockey."

Robidoux is currently finishing up a book on aboriginal masculinity, and he ties much of his research to what he has observed over the years at native hockey tournaments.

"It was clear from watching the play and by speaking with the players," he writes in The International Journal of the History of Sport, "that toughness and physical prowess were highly valued qualities for these men."

So, too, had it always been in Robidoux's own experience around Ontario junior hockey. The game was rough and tough, often leading to fights, but in the native communities he visited "these expressions of toughness manifested themselves quite differently from my previous experiences researching and playing ice hockey. . . ."

"Retaliatory gestures in this First Nations research context, however, were rare to non-existent. Instead, players would often smile or even laugh after receiving blows, which I recorded on several occasions in my field notes."

Fascinated, Robidoux turned to historical manifestations of masculinity in this country and found that native stoicism had once been the prevailing role model for males. The first Europeans found they could not survive unless they adopted native ways. The coureurs de bois took up native styles and attitudes toward such matters as injury and pain -- and in turn revelled in their new image of invincibility.

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"In fact," writes Robidoux, "these early French males were enamoured of their First Nations counterparts to the extent that First Nations men served as measures by which French males could validate their own worth as men."

In the opinion of this ethnologist, Chris Simon's reaction comes far more out of the NHL than it does out of any culture that could be identified with a "tomahawk" blow.

"I hope people don't associate this with First Nations hockey," Robidoux says. "It's not. It's NHL hockey.

"If he had dropped the gloves and beat up the other guy, is that more acceptable? I don't think it is.

"How can the NHL endure violence at one level when it comes to fighting face-to-face, the so-called acceptable violence, but if a stick is used everyone is suddenly crying foul about violence?

"Well, violence is violence. The NHL wants violence in the game, but it cries foul if it goes too far."

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To Robidoux, this is obvious hypocrisy. He worries, as others do, that the league feels it needs a certain level of "acceptable violence" to sell tickets, something he feels has caused the league to fail with network television and American families.

The result, he believes, is that the game is ending up an "extreme sport" that can only be explained and sold to potential new fans as "almost like roller derby.

"I'm not saying the NHL shouldn't market its game that way. It's an independent business. It can do as it sees fit.

"But you can't have it both ways on violence where some is sanctioned and some is not."

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