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Shifting from the delivery of in-person sport programming, to supporting the immediate wellness needs of Indigenous communities, ISWO rises to the challenge with it’s COVID-19 relief efforts. 

Mississauga, Ontario July 23, 2020 – From basketballs to potatoes, things are looking a bit different these days for the staff at Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO). Like many other organizations, ISWO is having to constantly adapt, in order to continue supporting Indigenous youth and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 11, 2020, ISWO (who is the designated Provincial/Territorial Aboriginal Sport Body for Ontario) made the difficult decision to cancel all in-person sport and recreation programming, and requested that all staff work from home to minimize the risk associated with the spread of COVID-19. Since that time, ISWO has worked closely with its staff, communities, partners, funders, and all levels of government to identify the greatest needs and challenges, and create solutions to help support those most affected. 

One of the most immediate needs felt by Indigenous communities in the early months of the pandemic, was one of food security, particularly in northern and remote communities, where the issue already presents a challenge. In response, ISWO, under the leadership of regional coordinator Tania Cameron, began efforts to secure food items such as meat, onions and potatoes for communities in the Northwest region. In the span of approximately two months, Mrs. Cameron was able to coordinate the movement and donation of more than 73,000 pounds of potatoes to Indigenous and non-Indigenous families in the Kenora region. Other regional coordinators with ISWO, such as Josh Carpenter in Central Ontario, secured shipments of hand sanitizer for delivery to communities facing obstacles in acquiring the high-demand item; while others still, such as Bailey Meawasige (ISWO regional coordinator for the North Central region of Ontario including the Thunder Bay area), coordinated donations, deliveries and distribution of food and household items that were in need across a number of communities in the area, including Fort William First Nation. 

“At first, when COVID-19 hit, we were devasted to cancel all of the sport programming we normally deliver, especially the programming we host for our youth,” said Marc Laliberte, President of Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario. “Communities were hurting, not just economically, but mentally and socially as well. Many of these communities are already remote and isolated, but with COVID-19, the impact is far greater and presents tremendous challenges for those already struggling. Our goal as an organization, is to support as many youth and communities as we can, and to increase their wellness, across all aspects of their lives. Sport is a tool and a medium for us to increase engagement, build confidence, foster wellness and create pathways – but there are other ways to do this as well, and that’s what we are trying to do.” 

Through a collaborative approach and using a province wide network, strengthened by ISWO’s regional coordinators, ISWO has delivered more than $100,000 worth of food, household items, new clothing and sport equipment to those communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous support and encouragement from the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, who understood the need to think outside of the box. 

The clothing and sport equipment products being distributed to communities are all brand new, individually packaged and include brands such as NIKE, Adidas, Umbro and Campus Crew. The items are carefully sorted to ensure a wide range of sizes and types, and are packaged for shipment to all identified communities. Each assembled box contains approximately 60 pieces of new clothing (i.e. jackets, sweaters, shirts, shorts, pants and hats) and various sport equipment, including at least four soccer balls. 

The boxes are assembled into separate pallets containing 96 cubic feet of clothing and equipment, weighing approximately 1,000 pounds and having a retail value of between $19,000 and $20,000. The assembled pallets are then transported to selected Indigenous communities in the northern and central regions of the province; the transportation of items is done in partnership with the Rotary Clubs of Canada’s Honouring Indigenous Peoples (HIP) program, who generously transport the items across the province at a nominal cost to ISWO. 

To date, ISWO has been able to directly support more than 60 Indigenous First Nations, in addition to supporting COVID-19 relief initiatives in partnership with the Metis Nation of Ontario and Tungasuvvingat Inuit. Communities have been appreciative of the efforts and hopeful that together, we can support Indigenous youth and their families through this difficult time. 

‘On behalf of our community of Biinkitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek, I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to ISWO for the thoughtful and generous donation,” said Chief Mel Hardy of Rocky Bay First Nation. “We look forward to seeing the positive and uplifting progress in our community and look forward to our partnership in developing and delivering sports, recreation and leadership opportunities for our youth – the future of our First Nation.” 

In addition to the coordination and delivery of food, household and sport equipment items, ISWO has been working to create a range of online programs to support the health and wellness of youth, families and communities during this time. One of those programs is the Standing Bear Indigenous Youth Leadership program; the program, the only one of its kind in Turtle Island, provides opportunities for certification in six distinct areas, with an emphasis on Indigenous cultures, languages, and a connection to the land, self and community. The entire program is available online, with instructions, activities and credit for coursework completed. ISWO has also kicked off an ‘Everyday Wellness’ blog, with weekly posts, showcasing teachings of Indigenous cultural traditions, knowledge and way of life. With videos on tanning fish skins, harvesting cedar, creating your own medicine bag and gathering the sacred medicines needed to fill the bags, the ‘Everyday Wellness’ blog is a vehicle for the sharing of knowledge between communities and generations. Additional online programs include the hugely successful ‘Couch to 5K program’ which provides a six-week online training program for running or walking a 5K. Facilitated by ISWO regional coordinator, Caroline Calverley, the ‘Couch to 5K’ Facebook group has more than 330 active members, who have created an online community, encouraging each other to be active and stick with it. 

With additional plans in the works for more virtual and online programs, community kits and equipment, and a ‘Community Sport Fund’ providing funding to applicants for their community sport needs, ISWO is looking to the future. It’s anyone’s guess when things will be back to normal, but in the meantime, ISWO is a steady force thinking outside the box, continuing to support the wellness of Indigenous youth and communities, in a time where uncertainty and need is at an all-time high. 

Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO) Quick Facts: 

  • ISWO is the designated Provincial/Territorial Aboriginal Sport Body for the province of Ontario, funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and the Government of Canada. 
  • ISWO serves all Indigenous Peoples and communities across the province of Ontario, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, living on and off-reserve, in rural and urban settings, encompassing more than 350,000 Indigenous Peoples. 
  • ISWO promotes and creates opportunities for participation in sport and cultural activities that promote wellness and positive lifestyles for Indigenous Peoples across Ontario. 
  • ISWO provides opportunities for physical literacy and competitive sport skill development and training by creating sport development pathways, designed specifically for Indigenous youth. 
  • ISWO is recognized by the Aboriginal Sport Circle and the North American Indigenous Games Council, and is the designated sport body for the development, selection and management of Team Ontario, which participates in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) and North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). 



ISWO honours the traditional lands and homelands of all Indigenous Peoples and communities across the province of Ontario, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis living both on and off-reserve, in rural and urban communities. 

Contact Information 

Christina Ruddy