Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Aboriginal Sport & Physical Activity

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Aboriginal involvement in sport and physical activity, in geographical Canada, date’s back prior to European exploration and has laid the foundation for many current Canadian trends in the world of sport. The importance of sport and physical activity is becoming more apparent to Canadians as researchers and practitioners attempt to combat the North American obesity epidemic. Aboriginal peoples are experiencing substantially poorer health status than the general population in Canada. This has caused some researchers to narrow their focus on the impact sport and physical activity has on the Aboriginal population. Canadian government and Aboriginal have helped in development of new initiatives to increase enrollment rates amongst the Canadian Aboriginal population. Many of these projects are still at the grass root level but the area of focus has been identified for Aboriginal youth in Sport and physical activity to increase overall health.


Aboriginal Peoples in Canada

“Aboriginal peoples” is a collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. The Canadian constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people each with unique histories, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ).

  1. First Nations people are descendants of Aboriginal tribes that existed along the southern belt of modern Canada with larger number originating in the prairies. First Nations were the first to trade with European explores and help establish historic trade routes that are still known today (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ).
  2. Métis people are not direct descendants of an ancient Aboriginal tribe, but rather the offspring from European French settlers whom married into a First Nations tribe (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ).
  3. Inuit people are decedents of the Thule culture, which emerged from Alaska approximately 1,000 CE and spread eastward across the Canadian Arctic. Inuit peoples are well recognized for their long history of whaling and seal hunting (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ).

The 2011 National Household Survey concluded that approximately 1.4 million people in Canada identify themselves as an Aboriginal person. Communities are located in urban, rural and remote locations across Canada. First Nations or Indian Bands are located on lands called reserves where only individuals with status can reside. Inuit Communities are located in northern Canada (Nunavut, NWT, Quebec and Labrador) (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ).

Historic Aboriginal Sport

Games in Aboriginal cultures were played by children and adults to either learn new skills, or to practice old ones (Manataka American Indian Council, 2008). Skills focused on developing techniques and strategies for survival (hunting, gathering, fishing). As well, other games were created for social engagement and enjoyment. Games created and enjoyed hundreds and thousands of years ago are still played today among many cultures besides Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal peoples of Canada created our national sport of Lacrosse, known among Aboriginal circles as “Tewaarathon”. Sports such as volleyball, long distance running, hockey and football all resemble traditional Aboriginal sports.

Women in Sport

During pre-Colonial Era, Aboriginal women participated in most games and contests among their tribes, as both men and women needed the skills that these games offered to hunt and fish. “Shinny”, a game very much like hockey, was often considered a women’s game. In many tribes games like Lacrosse and Football were reserved for men only, but some tribes allowed women to participate with modified rules (Marshall, 2014). European colonization restricted the opportunities for women as they were increasingly confined to small settlements and subjected to European ideas about appropriate female behaviour (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Recognized Aboriginal Figures in Sport

Tom Longboat a long distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve in southern Ontario was the first Aboriginal athlete to gain wide recognition (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Fred Sasakamoose was taken away from his home Ahtahkaoop first Nation in central Saskatchewan at a young age and sent to St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake. At the Residential school is where Fred learned to play hockey, he then went on to play in the NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954, being the first aboriginal person to play in the NHL (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Twin sisters Sharon and Shirley Firth from Gwich’in First Nation in Northwest Territories, competed at four Winter Olympic games in cross-country skiing (1972 Sapporo Japan, 1976 Innsbruck Austria, 1980 Lake Placid USA, 1984 Sarajevo Yugoslavia) (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Ted Nolan from the Garden River First Nation in northwestern Ontario was a high level athlete and the first recognized high level coach for Ice hockey. He played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red wings, and then was later hired as a head coach for the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres. He won the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year in 1997, and recently retired in 2007. Still heavily involved in the sport mostly helping Aboriginal youth to reach their potential in the sport (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Alwyn Morris a pair kayaker from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in southern Quebec won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. While Morris was on the podium to show his appreciation of the support he received from his grandparents, he held up an eagle feather as a symbol of Aboriginality in North American culture. He went on to co-found a national multi-sport organization for aboriginal sport and recreation development in Canada called “Aboriginal Sport Circle” (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Waneek Horn-Miller from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, co-captained the Canadian water polo team that won a gold medal at the 1999 Pan American games and competed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ).

Carey Price a current professional hockey goaltender for the Montreal Canadians from Anaheim Lake in northern British Columbia is part of the Ulkatcho First Nation, his Mother Lynda being the former chief. Carey is one of the most famous aboriginal athletes to date for his performances on the International stage and professional career (NHL , 2015 ). Carey represented Canada on various occasions: 2004 World U-17 hockey championships winning silver medal, 2005 IIHF World U18 championship, 2007 World Junior ice hockey championships in Sweden, 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He is the current starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadians. He was named honorary co-chair at the 2010 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships that were held in Ottawa, Ontario (NHL , 2015 )

Statistics of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada:

According to the National Household Survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2011, there are approximately 1,400, 685 people living in Canada whom identify themselves to be of Aboriginal heritage, accounting for 4.3% of the total Canadian population.


In comparison to the general Canadian population, Aboriginals have two times the obesity rates, and are 40% more likely to develop diabetes (Foulds et al., 2012). Suicide rates amongst Aboriginal youth are five to seven times higher than non-aboriginal youth (Health Canada, 2013). Furthermore, these stats hold a global significance, as suicide rates amongst Inuit youth are some of the highest in the world, at eleven times the national average (Health Canada, 2013).

Physical Activity and Sport

Approximately two thirds (69%) of Aboriginal children aged 6-14 take part in sports at least once a week (Smith et al., 2010).

Sports and Aboriginal Peoples:

National /International Sports Events and Programs

Arctic Winter Games is a biannual sport competition for northern and arctic athletes to provide them an opportunity to strengthen and promote sport development, partnerships, and culture values. The games are designed from traditional aboriginal games, sports and cultural activities based upon survival in the north (Arctic Winter Games , 2014 ). There are three categories of sports: 1. Wide participation sports (hockey, volleyball, soccer, cross country skiing) 2. Traditional northern sports (Inuit and Dene games, Alaskan high kick, wrestling) 3. Emerging/potential sports (snowboarding, table tennis.) The goal of this circumpolar sport competition is to furnish the opportunity through sport, the social and cultural meeting of Northern peoples regardless of language, race (Arctic Winter Games , 2014 ). In 1970 Government officials from Alaska, Yukon, NWT and Federal Member of Parliament worked together to host the first Arctic games. After the 1984 games the corporation sent queries to northern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba about adding another contingent (Arctic Winter Games , 2014 ). Sports and recreation in British Columbia showed interest but were declined support from the government, Northern Alberta was accepted into the 1986 games (Arctic Winter Games , 2014 ). Today there are over 3000 athlete participants across nine contingents: Alaska USA, Greenland, Northern Alberta Canada, Northwest Territories Canada, Nunavik Quebec Canada, Nunavut Canada, Sami people, Yamalo-Nenets Russia and Yukon Canada (Arctic Winter Games , 2014 ).

North American Indigenous Games is a multi-sport competition for indigenous athletes across 13 provinces in Canada and 13 regions in United States to compete for a gold silver or bronze medal representing their region and country (North American Indigenous Games , 2015 ). The most recent games held in Regina Saskatchewan in 2014, hosted 5,000 athletes in 15 different sports representing more than 756 tribes and an addition of over 300 volunteers (North American Indigenous Games , 2015 ). The vision of NAIG since created in 1990 is to “improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples by supporting self-determined sports and cultural activities which encourage equal access to participation in the social / cultural / spiritual fabric of the community in which they reside and which respects Indigenous distinctiveness” (North American Indigenous Games , 2015 ).

Aboriginal Sport Circle is a non-profit organization for aboriginal sport and recreation in Canada. The goal of the ASC is to “support physical, mental, spiritual, and cultural development of aboriginal people through sport and healthy living by providing youth families and communities with leadership and programming” (Aboriginal Sport Circle , 2012). With 26 members from Canada’s provinces and territories this board of directors priorities are athlete development, Coaching development, and recognition of excellence. With funding from Sport Canada, ASC coordinated major events such as National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, Aboriginal Sports Awards, Archery Championships, and Traditional Games Championships (Aboriginal Sport Circle , 2012).

  • The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) a program sanctioned by hockey Canada to provide elite Bantam and Midget aged female and male Aboriginal hockey players from across Canada a opportunity to showcase athletic abilities, show cultural unity and pride while representing their province. Serving as a focal point for grassroots and regional Aboriginal hockey development (ASRPAPC , 2012).
  • Aboriginal Sports Awards dinner is a nomination based event where awards are presented to individuals for: Sport Award - athlete or team who as excelled in respective sport, Coach Award, Culture Award- individual or group who best displays commitment to practicing their culture at any event, Community Builder Award- Individual or group who has contributed a great amount of time and energy into their community pertaining to sport and recreation (Aboriginal Sport Circle , 2012).
  • The Tradition Games Championships is geared to increase participation and awareness of Inuit and Dene games at the territorial level. Municipal and Community Affairs of NWT have these games running in schools and communities across the north, the TGC build off of these current activities (Aboriginal Sport Circle , 2012).

Barriers of Aboriginal Athletes

There are a few barriers that aboriginal athletes encounter are faced with when they leave home to pursue their athletic dreams. Aboriginal athletes are under pressure to gain status in a very competitive environment but there are also extra implications to their actions. They are often under increased scrutiny from local media because of their unique backgrounds and culture (unique last names, remote hometowns). Those in their hometowns also closely watch the behavior of aboriginal athletes, where they are regarded as role models for the young people (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ). Several cultural changes are required when they leave their communities and enter into high level or professional sport. Many cultures value the importance of family. When forced to leave home to join high level teams or college teams many athletes are unable to make the transition without decreased performance (Forsyth & Giles, 2013 ). Funding can be an issue for individual athletes (equipment, travel, housing) and teams, to play a high-level sport cost a large sum of money.

Health, Wellness and Physical Activity:

Physical activity as a tool for improving overall health and wellness is a topic that has been a strong research focus over the past decade with the continuing rate chronic disease amongst all Canadian citizens. The country has made significant gains, developing initiatives such as a Long Term Athlete Development Plant (LTAD) and Participaction. Both programs are aimed toward increasing physical activity at the grass roots level to increase life long participation in sport and to produce more elite athletes to represent Canada at international events. Study conducted by Heather Foulds, Shannon Bredin, and Darren Warburton specifically examines the effectiveness of self-selected intensities programs as community based physical activity (2011). This study is of relative importance, because it provided insight into the types of physical activity that can be effective in improving the overall health. Here researches allowed participants to insert themselves into either a walking, jogging or running group in which they took part in four times per week. At the end of the study the researches concluded that significant improvements in health could be observed across all three groups (Foulds et al., 2011). This study proved that not only can physical activity improve health, but it also proves that simple activity is all that is required to elicit positive results.

Current Research

In 2004 researches developed and tested a Physical Activity Interactive Recall (PAIR) for Aboriginal children (Levesque et al.). The goal here was to develop an interactive computer based survey that would allow researches to easily gather information regarding current trends in physical activity, amongst various Aboriginal groups and communities. This survey has since been used by several researches, and referenced in multiple journals.

With statistics showing increases in numbers of suicide among aboriginal youth, a study was conducted looking at the connection between stress and leisure (Iwasaki & Barlett, 2006). Iwasaki and Barlett concluded that culturally based forms of leisure seemed useful in dealing with culturally-bound stressors (e.g., racism), while some evidence was found for the role of leisure (e.g., physical activity) in coping with diabetes-related stressors (2006). This is extremely significant, given that the results suggests increasing physical activity levels within the Aboriginal population can elicit positive effects on both the physical and mental challenges faced by Canadian Aboriginals of all ages.

Physical Activity Barriers of Aboriginal Peoples

Economic resources and structural constraints in aboriginal communities across Canada are contributing factors in levels of participation in Canada. Socioeconomic status and access/ lack of transportation are major limitations for communities, as well as access to resources (equipment) and social barriers for youth that are related to low economic status (Mason & Koehli, 2012). Institution constraints as some facilities available for aboriginal activity in both urban and rural areas are in poor condition and recognized as a barrier for aboriginal youth. Intrapersonal restraints over the years have affected the capacity to engage in physical activity (Mason & Koehli, 2012). Referring to the transient lifestyle making it difficult to access sport and physical activity programs, substance abuse growing among younger youth, and responsibility at home and to their culture can lead to social and health problems without time for physical activity. The most talked about constraint amongst aboriginal peoples identified in cultural restraints, racial discrimination is an issue affecting sport, exercise, and activity experiences as well as gender (Mason & Koehli, 2012).

Aboriginal Peoples Programs Across Canada

National Aboriginal Day a government run project by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Is a day recognizing and celebrating the cultures and contributions of Aboriginal peoples of Canada. This day was first celebrated in 1996, and proclaimed to be on June 21 annually, although to date most provincial jurisdiction do not credit is as a statutory holiday (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ). This date was chosen to coincide with summer solstice, the longest day of the year because for generations Aboriginal groups have celebrated their culture and heritage at this time of year (Aboriginal Peoples and Communities , 2015 ). Every region across Canada has a different range of events and programs open for all Canadian citizens, ranging from traditional aboriginal sports games, story times, song and dance ect.

Aboriginal Sport, Recreation & Physical Activity Partners Council is the founding of three organizations, the First Nations Health Council (FNHC), the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centers (BCAAFC), and the Métis Nation BC (MNBC) who pledged in 2008 to work together and develop a multi-year implementation process designed to support a healthier future for the province’s Aboriginal communities, families and individuals (ASRPAPC , 2012). This modern strategy offers opportunities for sports, healthy living activities, grants, and other events in different regions of the province, using an interactive website to connect families to the information (ASRPAPC , 2012). The primary goal of this strategy is by supporting and encouraging physically active communities and by expanding access to sport and recreation opportunities it will improve health outcomes of Aboriginal people across British Columbia (ASRPAPC , 2012). Following the BC Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Declaration, five pillars were formed to support creation of responsive, adaptive and enduring programs across the province (ASRPAPC , 2012):

  • 1. Active Communities
  • 2. Leadership and Capacity
  • 3. Excellence
  • 4. System Development
  • 5. Sustainability

Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Strategy specifically directed at reducing the amount of Aboriginals living in Ontario diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. This initiative is currently ongoing and focuses on increasing the physical activity levels amongst Aboriginal children and adults, as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle through education and increased accessibility to resources.

Aboriginal Physical Activity and Cultural Circle Initiative (APACC). APACC is based in Vancouver, with a mandate to improve access to resources, and promote exposure to health and wellness opportunities for Aboriginal children, youth and adults of the coastal region.

Urban Native Youth Association “Training the Leaders of Tomorrow”, is a program ran out of the Vancouver area with over 21 programs available under categories of Education &Training, Personal Support, Lin-in programs and Sports & recreation. The focus of the most popular “Sports and Recreation” portion of the program, is to develop activities that remove barriers and support the participation of all native youth, particularly those who are not currently active. This program aims to strengthen resilience amongst youth, their families, and the community by increasing awareness and knowledge, and fostering youth skills and leadership development (Urban Native Youth Association , 2012 ).

Improving Health Through Sport and Physical Activity Among Aboriginal Populations in Canada:

Kristina Smith, Leanne Findlay, and Susan Crompton conducted a study in 2010 examining participation in sports among Aboriginal children and youth. The results of their study yielded significant information as to the most effective ways for involving Aboriginal youth and children in sport and physical activity. What they found was that activities, which also incorporated the development of life skills, produced the most significant improvements in physical and mental health for Aboriginal children and youth (Smith et al., 2010). An emphasis was also placed on incorporating cultural activities, such as spending time with elders, and speaking an aboriginal language, to make dramatic and sustained change in health. Increasing participation in physical activity was found to reduce rates of smoking, increase self-esteem and improving academic achievement. It should also be noted by practitioners that incorporating cultural relevance into physical activities, that also teach life skills, will have the best chance at improving the over all health of Aboriginal children and youth.

Gathering Our Voices

Gathering our Voice is a conference for aboriginal youth started by the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centers. This conference hosts up to 1,000 youth, presenters and guests that network and learn new techniques and skills in workshops, share knowledge through cultural activities, witness performances by, explore career and education possibilities and participate in sports and recreation activities. In 2008 Gathering Voices Conference the group undertook the task of developing a new and unified approach to community development and preventative health, creating the…

BC Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Declaration

We Declare that: We, the Aboriginal youth of British Columbia are committed to improving the health and lives of all Aboriginal people through Aboriginal and mainstream sports, recreation, and traditional physical activities within our communities. We, as Aboriginal people, hold dignity, survival, and well being as the foundation of our culture and we have the inherent right to live healthy and active lives. We are a strong, healthy, and resilient people that are connected to our lands and culture through the teachings and wisdom of our elders.

We will: Improve the health of our People, reduce the number of suicides amongst our youth, and strengthen our families and communities through increased sports, recreation, and physical activity. Counter the inequality that exists in our society in the areas of health, violence, addictions, racism, and poverty by increasing our health and strength through sports, recreation, and physical activity. Play our traditional Aboriginal sports and recreational activities and nurture our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Create more opportunities for our youth to participate in healthy and fun activities.

Call to Action: We call on the Federal and Provincial Governments to work with the Aboriginal youth of British Columbia to implement the spirit of this declaration. We call on our First Nation Governments to lead the way in building a healthier future for Aboriginal youth by making sports, recreation, and physical activity a priority. We call on all governments and Aboriginal organizations to work together to support and implement the spirit of this Declaration. We call on ourselves, the Aboriginal youth of BC, to implement this Declaration, to strengthen our Nations, and to create a healthier future for our People (ASRPAPC , 2012).

The inspiration from this document created by the Aboriginal Youth of BC in 2008 resulted in the creation of the long-term development of Aboriginal Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity Strategy earlier discussed. With initiatives like the gathering voices conference, education to youth, parents, community leaders, practitioners, and educators about the importance of physical activity and sport on physical, mental, and overall health of Aboriginal Peoples, positive changes are being made for the future.


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