Building sustainable youth development sports programs for First Nation, Métis and Inuit populations


It is understood that sports participation has an impact far beyond the physical. When children play, they develop cognitive and social skills, learn to manage their emotions and, hopefully, have fun.

But can play do more? Is it possible through play to strengthen a community, revive a culture or counter the negative effects of poverty and isolation? Alexandra Arellano has learned that play or, perhaps more correctly, PLAY can do all that and more.

PLAY (Promoting Life-Skills in Aboriginal Youth) is a program run by Right to Play, the international organization that seeks to provide educational and recreational resources to disadvantaged communities. Setting out rather modestly to evaluate and support two PLAY programs that recently launched in Canada, Arellano and her research team had an experience more enriching than they could ever have imagined. As a result of working closely with the host communities—the Moose Cree and Sandy Lake First Nations—friendships were forged, lessons were learned and the project’s results were remarkably far-reaching.

Not only are PLAY programs—made better through the application of project findings—now operating in 88 communities, but Arellano and her team will soon be working with Anishinabe communities to establish new programs. Leisure will again be the means but reconciliation, respect and dialogue will pave the way to successful implementation. In the end the most powerful take-away was that the most meaningful programs are holistic in approach, tied to the land, based in tradition and, crucially, set up by and with communities.

For more information, or to get involved in the PLAY program, contact

This research was funded by Sport Canada through the Sports Participation Research Initiative.