Our Way of Life: Importance of Indigenous Culture and Tradition to Physical Activity Practices

  • Keren Tang University of Alberta
  • Community Wellness Program
  • Cynthia G. Jardine University of Alberta
Keywords: Physical activity, participatory action research, participatory video, youth, cultural identity, strengths-based approach


To challenge the current negative and disease-oriented view in the Western health science paradigm, researchers from the University of Alberta collaborated with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s Community Wellness Program in a participatory action research project that took a wellness- and strengths-based approach to explore physical activity. We worked with youth to develop participatory videos about physical activity, which sparked community conversations on health promotion, community wellness, and ways to encourage more people to engage in physical activity. Findings revealed a multifaceted meaning of physical activity, supported by the theme of cultural identity. Participants highlighted aspects of culture, tradition, participation, and the land in defining physical activity. Being active was not only about soccer and running, but also playing traditional games, checking the fishnet, scraping the hide, being out on the land, and participating in the community. In other words, to be physically active was to be culturally active and to actively contribute in the community. Ultimately, through collaboration and dialogue, we generated different meanings of physical activity grounded in wellness, and we reinforced and provided further understanding of the cultural element of this health science terminology in an Indigenous context.


Absolon, K. (2011). Kaandossiwin: How we come to know. Halifax, NS: Fernwood.

Adelson, N. (2005). The embodiment of inequity: Health disparities in Aboriginal Canada. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 96(Suppl 2), S45–S61. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16078555

Aurora College. (n.d.). Aurora College faculty and staff handbook. Retrieved June 1, 2015, from http://www.auroracollege.nt.ca/_live/documents/content/FacultyStaffGuidebook.pdf

Blondin, G. (n.d.). Dene laws. Retrieved June 1, 2015, from http://www.dehcho.org/documents/deh_cho_process/Dene_law_posters.pdf

Brant Castellano, M. (2004). Ethics in Aboriginal research. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 1(1), 98–114. Retrieved from https://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ijih/index

Cargo, M., & Mercer, S. L. (2008). The value and challenges of participatory research: Strengthening its practice. Annual Review of Public Health, 29, 325–350. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.29.091307.083824

Cargo, M., Peterson, L., Lévesque, L., & Macaulay, A. C. (2007). Perceived wholistic health and physical activity in Kanien’kehá:ka youth. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 5(1), 87–109.

Côté-Arsenault, D., & Morrison-Beedy, D. (2005). Maintaining your focus in focus groups: Avoiding common mistakes. Research in Nursing & Health, 28(2), 172–179. doi:10.1002/nur.20063

Ermine, W., Sinclair, R., & Jeffery, B. (2004). The ethics of research involving Indigenous Peoples. Saskatoon, SK: Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre.

Findlay, L. C., & Kohen, D. E. (2007). Aboriginal children’s sport participation in Canada. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 5(1), 185–206.

Ford, J. D., & Beaumier, M. (2011). Feeding the family during times of stress: Experience and determinants of food insecurity in an Inuit community. The Geographical Journal, 177(1), 44–61. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4959.2010.00374.x

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary Ed.). New York, NY: Continuum.

Freire, P. (2005). Education for critical consciousness. New York, NY: Continuum.

Frisby, W., Reid, C. J., Millar, S., & Hoeber, L. (2005). Putting “participatory” into participatory forms of action research. Journal of Sport Management, 19, 367–386.

Genuis, S. K., Jardine, C. G., & Chekoa Program. (2013). Social media as an instrument for youth engagement with antismoking messages. Retrieved from CES4Health website: http://www.ces4health.info/find-products/view-product.aspx?code=5ZJFF7XB

Giles, A. R. (2005). Power, policies, and politics: Women’s involvement in Dene games in the Northwest Territories (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Giles, A. R. (2013). Women’s and girls’ participation in Dene games in the Northwest Territories. In J. Forsyth & A. R. Giles (Eds.), Aboriginal Peoples and sport in Canada (pp. 145–205). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Graham, H., & Leeseberg Stamler, L. (2010). Contemporary perceptions of health from an Indigenous (Plains Cree) perspective. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 6(1), 6–17.

Hawe, P., & Potvin, L. (2009). What is population health intervention research? Canadian Journal of Public Health, 100(1), I8–I14.

Retrieved from doi:10.17269/cjph.100.1748

Hill, D. (2008). Community-based research: Shifting the Western gaze toward Aboriginality. In Questioning research II: Homelessness research & Aboriginal communities—A guide for communities (pp. 7–9). Retrieved from Social Planning and Research Council of BC website: http://www.sparc.bc.ca/resources-and-publications/doc/298-qr2-guide-for-communities.pdf

Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288. doi:10.1177/1049732305276687

Jardine, C. G., & James, A. (2012). Youth researching youth: Benefits, limitations and ethical considerations within a participatory research process. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 71(6). doi:10.3402/ijch.v71i0.18415

Kirby, A. M., Lévesque, L., & Wabano, V. (2007). A qualitative investigation of physical activity challenges and opportunities in an Aboriginal community: Voices from within. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 5(1), 5–24.

Kirmayer, L., Simpson, C., & Cargo, M. (2003). Healing traditions: Culture, community and mental health promotion with Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Australasian Psychiatry, 11(1), S15–S23. doi:10.1046/j.1038-5282.2003.02010.x

Kovach, M. (2010). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

LaFlamme, M., Singleton, G., & Muir, K. (2012). Realizing the benefits of ownership through participatory video in a multimedia age. In E. Milne, C. Mitchell, & N. de Lange (Eds.), Handbook of participatory video (pp. 283–300). Toronto, ON: AltaMira Press.

Lavallée, L. F. (2007). Physical activity and healing through the medicine wheel. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 5(1), 127–154.

Lavallée, L. F., & Lévesque, L. (2013). Two-eyed seeing: Physical activity, sport, and recreation promotion in Indigenous communities. In J. Forsyth & A. R. Giles (Eds.), Aboriginal Peoples and sport in Canada (pp. 206–228). Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.

Lee, I.-M., Shiroma, E. J., Lobelo, F., Puska, P., Blair, S. N., & Katzmarzyk, P. T. (2012). Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: An analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet, 380(9838), 219–229. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61031-9

Liebenberg, L., Didkowsky, N., & Ungar, M. (2012). Analysing image-based data using grounded theory: The Negotiating Resilience Project. Visual Studies, 27(1), 59–74. doi:10.1080/1472586x.2012.642958

Low, B., Brushwood Rose, C., Salvio, P. M., & Palacios, L. (2012). (Re)framing the scholarship on participatory video: From celebration to critical engagement. In E. Milne, C. Mitchell, & N. de Lange (Eds.), Handbook of participatory video (pp. 49–64). Toronto, ON: AltaMira Press.

Lunch, C., & Lunch, N. (2006). Insights into participatory video. Oxford, UK: InsightShare.

Mayan, M. J. (2009). Essentials of qualitative inquiry. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

McHugh, T. L. F. (2011). Physical activity experiences of Aboriginal youth. Native Studies Review, 20(1), 7–27.

Miles, L. (2007). Physical activity and health. Nutrition Bulletin, 32(4), 314–363. doi:10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00668.x

Morse, J. M., Barrett, M., Mayan, M., Olson, K., & Spiers, J. (2002). Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(2), 13–22.

Paraschak, V., & Thompson, K. (2013). Finding strength(s): Insights on Aboriginal physical cultural practices in Canada. Sport in Society, 17(8), 1046–1060. doi:10.1080/17430437.2013.838353

Petersen, A., Davis, M., Fraser, S., & Lindsay, J. (2010). Healthy living and citizenship: An overview. Critical Public Health, 20(4), 391–400. doi:10.1080/09581596.2010.518379

Stanfield, B. (2000). Art of focused conversation: 100 ways to access

group wisdom in the workplace. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society.

Thompson, S. J., Gifford, S. M., & Thorpe, L. (2000). The social and cultural context of risk and prevention: Food and physical activity in an urban Aboriginal community. Health Education & Behavior, 27(6), 725–743. doi:10.1177/109019810002700608

Wallerstein, N., & Duran, B. (2008). The theoretical, historical, and practice roots of community-based participatory research. In M.

Minkler & N. Wallerstein (Eds.), Community-based participatory research for health: From process to outcomes (2nd ed., pp. 25–46). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weber-Pillwax, C. (2001). What is Indigenous research? Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 166–174.

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Winnipeg, MB: Fernwood.

Young, T. K., & Katzmarzyk, P. T. (2007). Physical activity of Aboriginal people in Canada. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 32(S2E), S148–S160. doi:10.1139/H07-110