Sport Canada's Policy on Aboriginal Peoples' Participation in Sport


1.1 Why a Policy Now?

Over the past decade, a great deal of work has been done by Aboriginal Peoples to develop and run sport and recreation programs for Aboriginal Peoples; notably, the establishment of the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC), the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), and provincial and territorial Aboriginal sport governing bodies. During this time, Canadian Heritage (Sport Canada) has consistently moved towards a value-based approach to sport including support for Aboriginal Peoples. In 2002, federal, provincial and territorial governments, endorsed the Canadian Sport Policy that acknowledges the existence of barriers to sport participation for Aboriginal Peoples and has as a goal to increase access and equity in sport. In 2003, the federal government modernized its sport legislation with the passing of the Physical Activity and Sport Act. This Act confirmed the Government of Canada’s policy regarding the full and fair participation of all persons in sport and mandated the federal Minister responsible for sport to facilitate the participation of under-represented groups in the Canadian sport system.

The Government of Canada has undertaken a number of steps and commitments to bring meaningful and lasting change in the relationship with Aboriginal Peoples and has situated Aboriginal issues in the upper echelon of federal policy and program priorities. As set out in the last two Speeches from the Throne, the priority is to work with Aboriginal Peoples so that they can participate fully in national life as well as share in Canada’s prosperity.

The creation of the Cabinet Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat at the Privy Council Office, as well as the Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable, underline this commitment. A renewed relationship with Aboriginal Peoples can only be built upon a realization of the uniqueness of Aboriginal cultures and a recognition and awareness of the contribution of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

While Sport Canada has increasingly worked in partnership with Aboriginal Peoples in support of their sport development efforts, a policy on the participation of Aboriginal Peoples in sport further confirms and clarifies Sport Canada’s intentions in Aboriginal sport development.

1.2 The Canadian Sport Policy

The Canadian Sport Policy seeks to improve the sport experience of all Canadians by helping to ensure the harmonious and effective functioning, and transparency of their sport system. The vision of the Canadian Sport Policy is to create a dynamic and leading-edge sport environment that enables all Canadians to experience and enjoy involvement in sport to the extent of their abilities and interests and, for increasing numbers, to perform consistently and successfully at the highest competitive levels.

Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport aims to ensure that the vision of the Canadian Sport Policy is inclusive; that it has the power to enhance the experience of— and access to—sport for all, including Aboriginal Peoples living in Canada. Implicit is the recognition that enhancing the sport experience for Aboriginal Peoples will only strengthen the value base of Canada’s sport system and the quality of life of all people in Canada.

Accordingly, Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport will be guided by the principles outlined in the Canadian Sport Policy:

  • Sport is athlete/participant-centered
  • Sport promotes leadership
  • Sport is based on equity and access
  • Sport is focused on development
  • Sport champions excellence
  • Sport serves the public interest

Further, Sport Canada’s Policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport will contribute to the Canadian Sport Policy by focusing on the following goals for Aboriginal Peoples in sport:

  • Enhanced Participation
  • Enhanced Excellence
  • Enhanced Capacity
  • Enhanced Interaction

The definitions of key terms used throughout the policy are found in Appendix A.

1.3 Scope

The Government of Canada’s investment in sport is grounded in strong logic. Growing evidence demonstrates that participation in sport has tremendous benefits to Canadians. For example, in 1997, statistics suggested “that a 3% increase in sport and recreation participation could save Canadian taxpayers $41 million in annual health care costs.” 1 Sport, as a tool for social development, has the ability to engage citizens and communities, surmount social barriers and contribute to building a healthier, more cohesive society. Sport builds pride in our nation through the performance of our athletes. Additionally, sport enriches Canada’s cultural life by promoting Canadian values, including diversity.

Sport Canada is committed to a sport system in Canada that consists of a variety of components necessary to promote the full participation of all peoples living in Canada. An inclusive sport system serving a diverse population will, by necessity, include organizations, programs and events that serve distinct populations. A sport system will also have core organizations that, for reasons such as governing a sport, maximizing economies of scale, and avoiding unnecessary duplication, will serve the general population.

Sport Canada will encourage cooperation and collaboration between and among organizations serving distinct populations and those serving the general population to ensure the goals of the Canadian Sport Policy are achieved and that opportunities for the full and active participation in all aspects of sport, from the playground to the podium, are available to all people living in Canada.

Sport Canada recognizes the power of sport to improve the lives of Aboriginal Peoples. Indeed, sport has long been recognized by Aboriginal Peoples across Canada as a means to combat some of the negative factors affecting Aboriginal communities, in particular those affecting their youth.2 In advancing the impact of sport as a social driver, this policy recognizes that Sport Canada is only one partner in a vast network of stakeholders— Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, governmental and non-governmental—at the community level through to the international level. There are also larger social and economic issues that contribute to inequity in sport. Nevertheless, Sport Canada will demonstrate leadership and influence by working collaboratively with other federal government departments, other governments, non-governmental organizations and Aboriginal Peoples to maximize sport’s impact on the lives of Aboriginal Peoples.

Sport Canada is committed to contributing, through sport, to the health, wellness, cultural identity and quality of life of Aboriginal Peoples. Therefore, its policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport endorses the Maskwachees Declaration (Appendix B). Further, Sport Canada is committed to advancing the objectives of the Physical Activity and Sport Act enacted in 2003 and which outlines new measures to reflect and strengthen the Government of Canada’s current role in sport. Its objectives include, among others, facilitating the participation of under-represented groups in the Canadian sport system, including women, persons with a disability, visible minorities, and Aboriginal Peoples.

1.4 Sport and Aboriginal Peoples

Games, play—and more recently, sport— have always played an important role in Aboriginal cultures, as traditional Aboriginal lifestyles were very physically active. Many sports and games related to survival and the holistic development of individuals, families and communities, and they centered on important principles within their belief systems and cultural values. The holistic approach of Aboriginal Peoples emphasizes the development of the whole person, balancing the physical, mental, emotional, cultural, and spiritual aspects of life.

In addition, this traditional Aboriginal perspective does not distinguish between sport, recreation, and physical activity; all of these activities are intertwined and integral to personal and community well-being.

Aboriginal Peoples in Canada have worked diligently to highlight the values inherent to Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport, and to bring the major barriers to participation to the attention of both government and the Canadian sport system. This policy recognizes that this movement will continue to make an impact on the healthy, active lifestyles of Aboriginal Peoples. However, in view of achieving significant, long-term social change through broad-based participation of Aboriginal Peoples in sport, a new, stronger collaboration among Aboriginal Peoples, the Canadian sport community and all levels of government is required. Appendix C provides an historical overview of federal involvement in Aboriginal sport.

1.5 Sport and the Socio-economic issues specific to Aboriginal Peoples

In 1998, “Sport in Canada: Everybody’s Business” (‘The Mills Report’), in addressing the state of Aboriginal Peoples and sport, stated that:

…“Aboriginal people have a poverty rate comparable to that found in developing countries, an unemployment rate among adults of almost 25%, a poorly educated population and a dramatic suicide rate, which among 10–19 year olds is more than 5 times higher than that of their non-Aboriginal counterparts. […] Fortyfour percent of Aboriginal people smoke daily, 61% report problems with alcohol abuse and 48% report problems with drug abuse.” 3

Aboriginal People in Canada experience a profound disparity in health status. For example, Canada is reacting to a crisis in the general population of Type II diabetes, yet the prevalence in First Nations communities is significantly higher. For instance, the prevalence among Canadian women 55–64 years of age is 5.4% but among First Nations women in the same age bracket the prevalence is a staggering 34.1%.4 Today’s Aboriginal youth—one of the fastest growing segments of the Canadian population— are challenged by rising rates of illness, such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, and fetal alcohol syndrome, and suffer from higher rates of incarceration, substance abuse, suicide, racism, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Accordingly, the Mills Report highlighted the positive role played by sport and recreation in strengthening the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of Aboriginal life. Aboriginal sport leaders from across Canada have also identified youth sport and recreation “as one of the primary means for community wellness: as preventative medicine for the social dilemma that Aboriginal youth face.” 5

To be effective and meaningful, a policy on Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport must recognize the socio-economic issues specific to Aboriginal Peoples as well as the opportunities for social change through sport. See Appendix D for additional demographic information on Aboriginal Peoples.

1.6 Barriers to Aboriginal Peoples’ Participation in Sport

An immediate priority for the full participation of Aboriginal Peoples in sport is to reduce the number of widely recognized barriers to participation:

There is a general lack of awareness, understanding and information among Aboriginal Peoples about the benefits of being active in sport and the health risks associated with inactivity.

Economic circumstance
The majority of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada face economic difficulties, and many families simply cannot afford the cost of registration fees, equipment and competition travel associated with sport.

Cultural insensitivity
Sport must provide a positive and welcoming environment to attract and maintain its participants. Programs and activities that are insensitive to the cultures and traditions of Aboriginal Peoples discourage their participation.

Coaching capacity
Aboriginal participation in sport is hindered by a lack of Aboriginal coaches and coaches who are sensitive to Aboriginal cultures. Aboriginal coaching development is hindered by the lack of access to coaching certification courses and appropriate training materials.

A significant number of Aboriginal communities are situated in remote locations with relatively small populations. The economics and logistics of travel to access programs, facilities, expertise and equipment are barriers to Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport.

The debate over government responsibility for financially supporting the delivery of sport programs in Aboriginal communities and in urban Aboriginal centres affects the potential investment in sport for Aboriginal Peoples. The silo structure of governments can frustrate community access to programs and services as well as individual departments seeking horizontal cooperation on issues that cross a variety of departmental mandates.

Racism is an ongoing problem in Canadian society manifesting itself in sport practice as it does in all socio-cultural practices. Racism is a socially constructed idea that alienates many Aboriginal Peoples by causing fear, anxiety and distrust, ultimately serving as a barrier to their full participation in Canadian society, including sport.

Sport infrastructure
Aboriginal communities (on-reserve) across Canada do not have adequate sport or recreation infrastructure. Capital projects such as schools, roads and housing take precedence over sport or recreation facilities. This lack of facilities limits community access to daily recreation or physical activity programs, including sport.

1.7 Guiding Principles

A policy on sport participation, which addresses the unique circumstances of
Aboriginal Peoples, must reflect a holistic approach, advance sport as a vehicle for social change, and respect the diversity of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. Accordingly, Sport Canada will respect the following principles:

  • Aboriginal cultures are an integral part of Canada’s culture and heritage.
  • There is increasing evidence of strong correlations between cultural continuity and other factors that affect the quality of life of Aboriginal Peoples. Some of these factors include sport, language revitalization, community cultural activities, and bilingual education.
  • Aboriginal Peoples have significant traditional knowledge and cultural teachings of play, games and sport.
  • First Nations (on/off reserve and status/non-status), Inuit and Métis, including Aboriginal women, experience unique living conditions and social realities.
  • Aboriginal protocol must be respected when consulting or promoting federal sport policies and program developments to Aboriginal Peoples.
  • Aboriginal Peoples in Canada live in a complex environment and geography. Challenges exist in transportation and provision of competition and training opportunities for Aboriginal Peoples living in remote locations.
  • Increasing Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport is enhanced by working with Aboriginal sport leaders and through continued partnerships to achieve objectives of common interest.
  • The sport continuum includes participation in activities from the playground to the podium. Sport is a popular means to be physically active, especially among youth.
  • Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport is a strong, viable and integral component of Canadian sport that should be recognized and valued by all Canadians.
  • An Aboriginal sport delivery system exists and it is important to work with the ASC, its national body, to identify and address the areas of priority to advance Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in sport.

Full Report



Title Context
Source Sport Canada's policy on Aboriginal Peoples' participation in sport.
Publisher Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada
Date 2005
SIRC Article # S-993701


This material has been copied under license from the Publisher. Any resale for profit or further copying is strictly prohibited.