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Sports & Recreation

Sports and recreational activities have played a vital role in the lives of Alberta’s Aboriginal Peoples for countless generations. Games and community activities provided amusement and relaxation to a resilient people who worked hard each day to survive.

In the past, leisure activities functioned on a deeper level by encouraging interaction within families and helping to build stronger, closer-knit communities. For some of Alberta’s Aboriginal Peoples, this is still the case today. Because of community Elders, who passed their knowledge to younger generations, many traditional recreational activities, which made up an integral part of life in the past, have a strong presence today.

Because of the Aboriginal Peoples’ strong physical and spiritual ties to the land, traditional leisure activities were more than likely based around elements found in nature. Bows and arrows were fashioned out of wood and animal sinew and used for archery practice. Other materials, such as stones, sticks, bones, walnut shells, and leather were used to play games of chance. These mostly consisted of tossing small objects or hiding them and guessing their number or whereabouts. The moccasin game, for example, was a guessing game played with two teams. A small token, such as a stone or the pit of a fruit, was hidden under one of four moccasins by one team, while the members of the opposing team took turns trying to guess its location.

Other activities, such as foot or canoe races and tug-of-war, relied on the physical ability of the players. Ball games were popular, especially in the spring and summer months when communities came together at camps and could count enough players to challenge each other to a fun-spirited match. Stick-and-ball games were also played with great enthusiasm, and some, such as lacrosse, continue to be popular.

For younger children, nature was an unlimited source of amusement. Toy boats could be crafted out of wood and floated down a creek, and dolls were made out of cloth and hide. Much of the time, boys and girls did what they were best at – they used their imaginations. They made their own fun, playing hide-and-seek or tag in the bush, climbing trees, swimming in the river, rolling down hills, wrestling, or playing make-believe.

For many young boys and girls, fun activities could also serve another, more important purpose by helping them build skills necessary for adult life. Boys, for example, would trap squirrels or other small animals and skin them the way they saw their fathers skin caribou or other game. Girls watched their mothers make cradleboards for infants, and fashioned similar ones in which to carry their dolls. These activities helped children move seamlessly into the adult world.

Oftentimes, leisure activities took place in the context of chores, and a day-to-day event such as berry-picking could turn into a family or community outing in which everyone could take part and enjoy.

Special occasions, such as the birth of a child or a young man’s first successful hunt, could also lead to a festive mood and give rise to community activities. Everyone would join in to feast and rejoice, and group games and diversions added to the celebration.

A deep connection with nature still fuels many of the leisure activities in which communities take part today. Hunting, camping and fishing are popular any time of the year (though for some people, less vital to survival than they were in the past), and sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are common pastimes in winter.

The ways in which traditional games and sports are played today are more varied due to the passing of time and the influences of modern culture. Tossing and guessing games, for example, which were once played with peach or plum pits, can now be played with coins, which the winning player might keep as a reward. Other activities can include everything from music and dancing to sports such as hockey, soccer, and baseball.

People share their talents to entertain others in the community. At the heart of these activities lie the traditions that took root many generations ago, propelled forward by Elders who remember them from their childhood and pass on their knowledge to the younger generations.

  • Elders' Jig
    These Elders are taking part in a traditional Métis jig at National Aboriginal Day 2005 in Edmonton, Alberta. Their dancing is a form of recreation, and helps them stay fit while building closer community bonds.
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