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Leisure and Traditional Culture in First Nations Communities

Key Message

Leisure provides an avenue for First Nations peoples to learn and play out their traditional lifestyle, thus reestablishing and preserving the traditions of the past. Some of the ‘old ways’ will only be preserved through the leisure domain of life.


Reid, D., & Welke, S. (1998). Leisure and Traditional Culture in First Nations Communities. Journal of Leisurability, 25(1).


The Potential Roles of Leisure in Native Cultural Maintenance and Development Leisure can provide a variety of functions in facilitating and maintaining culture and ethnic practices. First, groups can pass on their cultural practices from one generation to the next through leisure activity. Elders in Aboriginal culture often teach special skills and ‘the old ways’ to their children and grandchildren through leisure.

Second, the use of leisure as a renewal of cultural practice can also lead to healing so often referred to by Aboriginal people. Aboriginal communities are often inflicted with many addictions and negative behaviours which have threatened their actual survival (Reid, 1993). Leisure has been used as a forum through which healing takes place, especially among the youth.

Third, leisure activity can be used as an agent of interface between one culture and another. For example, ice hockey in Canada is often used by Aboriginal people to enter and learn the rules of the dominant culture. Additionally, these leisure activities are often a means for two cultures to interact and stereotypes can be broken down as a result of this contact.

Lastly, leisure activity can be used by the Aboriginal peoples to provide a glimpse of their culture practices to the dominant culture. For example, nonnative people are often welcome to participate in many of the powwows that are held across North America each summer. This often leads to increased pride on the part of the host culture as they see the growth of understanding and acceptance on the part of the outside participant. Additionally, leisure can be utilized as a facilitating agent to develop concepts of equality through diversity. Multicultural festivals often provide this forum. It is in joint participation through demonstrations of heritage, whether through food or dance and dress, that can result in solidarity among diverse ethnic groups including Aboriginal groups. In fact, some may argue that Canada is quickly losing its dominant culture as it moves toward a true multicultural society.


The development of pride and identity through the practice of a leisure activity such as a powwow demonstrates to the mainstream society the fact that aboriginal cultures are not inferior to their own. Pride and identity was also found to be very important in the Northern Alberta Study. Many respondents, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, referred to some of the feelings evoked by the elements of First Nations cultures evident in the summer festival. For example, one interviewee reported:

An uncle from Las Vegas liked it, thought is was pretty neat. My two friends from Northern Ireland loved it, they couldn’t get over (the community), and didn’t want to go home. They thought it was the best vacation ever. It makes you feel proud, a real sense of pride in where you come from, who you are.

Most respondents to the northern Alberta study also referred to the multicultural aspects of the summer festival, and believe that this sharing of cultures allows the community to come together.

As stated by one individual:
I like the cultural events, Heritage Day. I think it’s important for the different cultural groups to highlight what they feel is important about the strengths of the individual cultures. It’s nice to see that sort of thing because it’s something they’re proud of, something they readily share with everybody else and that’s important.

The festival as a leisure pursuit facilitates the coming together of segmented social groups and the sharing of diverse cultural practices. For perhaps one weekend a year, appreciation and equality are practised in the community as people share their culture with others. The study in Northern Alberta shows that festivals and events as cultural display or cultural text can act as a unifying factor for community members of different ethnic backgrounds. In sharing the many cultures of the community, the festival also educates community residents and tourists about both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures in Canada.

The intent of this paper was to explore the function of leisure in First Nations communities. Specifically, it was to determine if leisure was being used as a force for traditional cultural preservation and development or as a tool for integration (some would say assimilation) into the dominant society of Canada. As one might expect, the tentative conclusion reached after this review is to suggest that it is both. Leisure provides an avenue for First Nations peoples to learn and play out their traditional lifestyle, thus reestablishing and preserving the traditions of the past. Some of the ‘old ways’ will only be preserved through the leisure domain of life. One the other hand, leisure, often through multicultural events such as festivals, is the method most often used for the sharing of traditional culture with the dominant society and other unique cultures in the larger social system. Yet, the present leisure system is also a threat in that much emphasis by the formal band structure is placed on developing a recreation system which emulates the communities of the dominant culture. While this in itself is not necessarily bad, (after all, in many cases it is a legitimate forum for First Nations communities to use in an attempt to interact with the larger society) it is not good if to much of the effort and resources are devoted to this direction at the expense of developing and preserving the traditional leisure system.

Additional Information


Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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