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Aboriginal Youth Identity Series: Health and WellnessElementarySeniors Health and Wellness
Health and Wellness
Health and Wellness

North American Indigenous Games

The traditions, heritage and history of Aboriginal people tell that they held assemblies and occasions for games throughout North America. What is not well known is that these games taught personal and social values to teach each generation Indigenous lifestyle and culture. These qualities included honesty, courage, respect, personal excellence, and gratitude for the guidance of parents, elders, and communities. Thus, dance was part of preparation of children and youth for the responsibility of adulthood.

In fact, Aboriginal culture inspired two of Canada’s most well loved sports, lacrosse and hockey. Many Aboriginal individuals have found fame participating in organized sports and events, including Shirley and Sharon Firth who dominated cross country skiing in the 1970s and Sheldon Souray with the Montreal Canadiens, Aboriginal people have also developed their own sporting and cultural events to showcase their own talent. One of these events is the North American Indigenous Games, which began (NAIG) in 1990.

NAIG is a two-week celebration that demonstrates unity among Indigenous peoples from all regions and cultures across Canada and the United States through friendly competition in sport and cultural events and helps to promote the holistic concepts of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth of individuals.

Aboriginal youth are a rapidly growing part of the Canadian demographic, and many are disproportionately at risk to medical and social issues. These include health concerns such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, and foetal alcohol syndrome. Social disruptions include high rates of incarceration; substance abuse; harassment and racism; and a sedentary lifestyle. The presence of severe social and health conditions in the lives of many Aboriginal people of Canada generally leads to a decreased contemporary quality of life.

Since the first event in Edmonton in 1990, followed by Prince Albert in 1993, Blaine, Minnesota in 1995, and Victoria in 1997, the NAIG has increased in significance. It is now the largest ongoing multi-sport and cultural Aboriginal youth games hosted in North America. Over 60 percent of participants at the 2002 event in Winnipeg were under the age of 18.

The NAIG has made a tremendous impact on the healthy, active lifestyles of Aboriginal youth. It has demonstrated the healing power of sport and culture and that the Games can help to alleviate youth social problems such as alcohol and drug use, suicide, school dropout rate, and conflict with the law, through the discipline of sport and culture. Participation in sport and recreation has been recognized to improve physical as well as mental health and well-being. It enhances the overall quality of life and is proven to reduce and prevent illness. Statistics show that a 3 percent increase in recreation and sport participation could save Canadian taxpayers $41 million in annual health care costs. Sport and recreation opportunities have also been seen to strengthen families, build community pride and leadership and contribute to a community’s vitality.

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have committed to supporting the NAIG in order to promote opportunities for Aboriginal youth to access and participate in sport and recreation. Their support of the NAIG demonstrates their ongoing commitment to working with Aboriginal people to promote healthier habits and lifestyles for the Aboriginal youth of today.

The proceeding adapted from North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) Funding Framework for 2008 and Onwards: Hosting Component January 30, 2003 accessed at this http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/sc/pubs/
indigenous_games_e.pdf
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