Canada is home to more than 1.6 million Indigenous people, including 600 First Nations communities, as well as Inuit and Métis communities. These distinct nations and groups have diverse histories, traditions, and cultures—as well as games and activities. Traditional sports and games can help strengthen an Indigenous child’s sense of culture and tradition while increasing physical literacy and physical activity levels.
“These games are a way of passing on survival skills from their ancestors,” says Donald Kuptana, an Inuvialuk originally from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. He’s an instructor facilitator and official for the Northern Games, a series of competitions at the triennial Labrador Winter Games that are based on centuries-old Inuit traditions.
“Youth who are involved in these games are able to quickly pick up techniques around agility, and strength, and endurance for other mainstream sports such as volleyball, basketball, hockey, etc. Participation in these games offers any individual patience, balance, confidence to excel in life.”
This presents one way for non-Indigenous children to learn more about the culture of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people.
Here a few traditional games to try:
1. One Foot High Kick (Inuit)
This game involves jumping, walking, running, balancing, and kicking, and can be played with kids of all ages.
A target, usually a ball, is hung by a string or rope from a support. Players take turns trying to kick the target with one foot and landing on the foot with which they kicked. The target is raised until only one person can kick it. Participants can stand still to kick, or can walk or run and jump at the target.
For younger kids, it may be easier to remove the requirement to land on the foot that they kicked with.
Equipment required: A target and a rope or string
2. Snow Snake (Haudenosaunee)
With no actual snakes involved, kids of all ages will love this winter throwing game.
Kids form a line and take turns throwing a sharpened stick underhand across snow. The person whose stick goes the furthest, including the glide, wins a point. When a participant has reached a previously agreed-upon number of points, that player is the winner.
Equipment required: Sharpened sticks
3. Make the Stick Jump (Blackfeet)
Who doesn’t love the idea of making sticks jump? Five sticks approximately eight inches in height are stuck into the ground at different distances from a line. Each stick has between one and five lines painted or drawn on it. The closest stick will have the smallest number and the farthest stick the highest. One at a time, kids stand behind the line and take turns throwing rocks, bean bags, or hacky sacks at the sticks. If an object hits a stick directly, it will make the stick “jump” and points are awarded for that stick.
Equipment required: Five (approximately eight-inch) sticks and objects to throw (rocks, bean bags, etc.)
4. Lacrosse (Haudenosaunee / Iroquois)
Lacrosse is the national summer sport of Canada and was invented by Indigenous people. The game is played with two teams of participants each using a crosse, a stick with a net pocket to catch, scoop, carry, and throw a ball. The aim of the game is to get the ball into the opposing team’s net. The game can be incredibly fast-paced when played with older participants.
Younger kids can start learning the sport by using lacrosse sticks to play fun games such as lacrosse golf (try to throw a ball from a lacrosse stick into a bucket or bin without letting it bounce), sky ball (have an adult throw a ball high into the sky and have kids try to catch it in their stick), or monkey in the middle (with at least three kids, each participant uses their stick to pass the ball back and forth without the “monkey” standing between them intercepting the ball).
Equipment required: Lacrosse stick, ball
5. Siturtaq / Monkey Dance (Inuit)
Participants start in a squatting position, facing each other in a circle. The dance involves kicking one leg out while maintaining the squat position with the other, alternating legs back and forth. When you hit the floor, you’re out. The dance ends when the last child hits the floor.
Equipment required: None