Using sport and recreation’s transformative power to build healthy, active, happy and vibrant Indigenous communities

by Chrissy Colizza

Kinngait, formerly Cape Dorset, is a small, remote community of 1441 residents known for soapstone carvings, printmaking, a stunning landscape, and arctic wildlife  found on the traditional lands and homelands of the Inuit. 

About a year ago, Joanne Weedmark started as the recreation director for the Kinngait, Nunavut municipality, one of three communities Sport for Life works with on the Physical Literacy with Indigenous Communities Project. From early on in her career, Weedmark realized that the children and youth enjoyed being physically active. She emphasized that the youth can be physically active when they have the resources available. Joanne looked to create and support the love and engagement in sport and physical activity in her community. Weedmark saw this as an opportunity to approach Indigenous sports differently. She started with little knowledge of start-up recreational activities but believed in sport and recreation's transformative power to help build healthy, active, happy and vibrant communities. She knew there was a need – and demand – for such programs in the community; thus, she did everything in her power to make that vision a reality.

While the results of this program are incredible, Weedmark's journey towards this goal was far from easy. The biggest challenge Weedmark faced during the pursuit of this mission was finding enough space for the children to be physically active, along with an overall lack of resources. Coupled with these already scarce resources was the added obstacle of the pandemic. This task seemed nearly impossible.  

However, Weedmark was not deterred from what she believed needed to be done. With an unwavering dedication and perseverance to her community, Weedmark spent countless hours speaking to residents in both English and Inuktitut in the community and found resources to help develop more robust physical activity and quality sport programs. Her efforts helped provide youth in the community with bicycles and other much-needed sports equipment. She also contributed to finding resources for buying healthier food items to ensure people could eat as well as they could.

Through collaboration with Sport for Life, Weedmark went on a mission to bring more physical literacy opportunities to the Kinngait community to increase and enhance physical activity and sports programs and services. This mission aimed to provide access to physical literacy resources to improve knowledge base and capacity to become independent in leading sports, recreational programs and activities with ease and proficiency. The partnership between the Kinngait Recreation Department and Sport for Life allowed the creation of a platform that focuses on providing sports equipment to households and distributing play kits to families in the community during the pandemic.

Now herefforts are being recognized nationally as the recipient of the "emerging leader of the year" award from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association.

While her efforts towards meaningful change have only just begun, Weedmark explains that physical activity has been very beneficial for the youth. She described the youth as encouraged and determined to show up, wanting more physical activity opportunities. She explained that they wanted to experience more sports. Weedmark said that she is working hard toget them access to different sports and more resources. As she advances in her career, Weedmark will continue to grow and strengthen her relationship with the community partners. Through collaboration, innovation, inclusion, and integrity between the Inuit communities, Sport for Life, and other stakeholders, this team will con

tinue to promote, increase and enhance physical activity and sport programs and services. Through these collaborative efforts, they strive to address that gap between mainstream pathways for sport development and Inuit needs or experiences by outlining the key elements that need to be considered when planning, developing, and implementing programs for and with Inuit peoples and communities.

For information on the Indigenous Long-Term Participant Development Pathway, visit: https://sportforlife.ca/indigenous-peoples/.

To learn more about Weedmark’s work, visit: Kinngait, Nunavut, resident wins national leadership award for work boosting local recreation | CBC News