A mother crouches next to her toddler daughter on a trail and smiles at her.

An Indigenous mother’s view of active play

When I think about children’s active play, my mind goes back to when I was a child. During my childhood, the role of the young girl was still overseeing the younger siblings and playing after the chores were done. 

When I was done working around the house, I disappeared into the bush. There were trails to walk when my dad left a path from cutting wood. There were vines to swing from and trees to climb. Running through the cornstalks and playing tag or hiding were some of the games I played with other kids to pass time.  

My parents were always working during the day and worked around the house at night. Being the oldest, I rarely had time to play except when my parents planned to go to the beach once during the summer.

Spring was the time for gardens to be planted, hoed, watered, harvested, and then preserved. My dad didn’t have any farm animals or horses for me to look after, but we still needed to cut wood with him, and I had to fetch water for our household until the plumbing was installed. I learned to never say I was bored, because my mom would always say, “There is always something to do around this house.” 

My parents didn’t play sports but occasionally let me play basketball after school

Many kids had parents that worked all the time and it was up to us to use our imagination to make up our own rules. Most of the time, however, I had to watch over my two younger siblings and play with them. They were six and eight years younger than me, and while it wasn’t always fun to play with them, it got me out of work.

When I had my own children, they helped maintain our household as I did with my parents. We worked together to do chores around the house. Our home had running water and propane to heat the house, so they didn’t need to get water and wood for the stove. We also didn’t have a garden to maintain, but we picked berries and apples. The major difference was I was a single parent and worked during the day and often into the evening.  

It wasn’t easy to put my kids into sports, so I would coach

I coached the sports that allowed all three of my children to be on the same team. I coached tee-ball, basketball, soccer, canoe and kayak, archery, swimming, stand-up paddling, and golf. Even though I couldn’t throw a baseball, I tried to play catch with my son. I understood the natural ease and comfort he had in team sports, while my daughters did much better with individual sports. I loved playing sports with my kids.  

Now that my children are older, we still walk, paddle, golf, and at times shoot arrows together. I recently watched my daughter put her son in a jolly jumper and she began to teach him to jump. He’s three months old, holding his head up and used to being held. He wasn’t familiar with jumping at first and he scared himself, but my daughter calmly let him know he was okay and gently moved his feet off the floor and bent his knees. 

As I listened to my daughter play with her son, I could hear their laughter. I believe laughter is the medicine to balance work and play at any age. I admire her patience and her ability to get on the floor to play with him.  

I think I did well to teach my kids about keeping work and play in balance

Now that I’m 50 years old, my knee reminds me that I’m not young anymore. But I look forward to pushing my grandson on the swing in the tree next to our home and walking down the laneway alongside him. 

In today’s world, with an easier life and many more conveniences, we still need our children to be active for a healthy quality of life.

Cindy Martin is Cayuga of the Turtle clan and a mother of three grown children. She is also an author who lives and works at Six Nations in Ontario. Currently, she is working as Indigenous community engagement coordinator on an Active for Life project.

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