Future Indigenous fitness leaders taking skills back to home communities in Sask.

A pilot program in Saskatoon has trained 18 Indigenous "physical activity ambassadors" to get their fitness certification.

Pilot program provides fitness certification training with goal of building healthier communities

Tara Griffith, a successful youth basketball athlete who now coaches young players, plans to use her refined knowledge of group fitness and training to develop youth programs to take back to her First Nation. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Brad Stone says he wishes there were fitness programs like boot camps when he was growing up on the Whitecap Dakota First Nation about 20 years ago.

"You know, I was running around reserve, climbing on the band office, throwing rocks. There was nothing back then," said Stone.

Stone is now the recreation co-ordinator for that First Nation, and one of 18 people selected from 90 applicants to participate in a pilot program designed to train Indigenous "physical activity ambassadors."

'Phenomenally awesome'

The program, developed in Saskatchewan, trains the successful applicants to get their fitness certification.

Speaking on the last day of the program on Sunday, Stone described the experience as "phenomenally awesome."

Brad Stone says boot camps are growing in popularity amongst youth at the Whitecap Dakota First Nation near Saskatoon. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

"It just overall kind of blew my mind about how much information they're giving us," said Stone. 

"And how much we're able to go back to our communities and utilize that knowledge and that wisdom and those teachings and that certification to help our own communities."

The group is now qualified to lead group fitness classes that are common in many gyms, such as high-intensity interval training, circuit classes and weight training.

Trial run for pilot project

The program was developed by the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association (SPRA) with funding from Indigenous Services Canada.

With participants from across the province among the group of 18, the program aims to provide more access to fitness in Indigenous communities by training qualified leaders.

A pilot project designed to train Indigenous fitness leaders who can share their knowledge across the province could be expanded to provide the training outside Saskatoon. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)
The training incorporates exercise theory, class development and structure, and was held over three weekends at the Saskatoon Tribal Council building.

The program was built on the core principles of the original certification training.

It also incorporates additional elements which are relevant to Indigenous participants, such as a focus on holistic aspects of the mind, body and spirit.

Basketball athlete turns to fitness

Participant Tara Griffith plans to use the certification skills to develop youth programs she can take back to her First Nation and across Canada.

Moving forward we will look at how it could be implemented across the province possibly.- Wendy McKellar, Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation consultant

Originally from the Okanese First Nation, Griffith was a youth basketball champion and now coaches young athletes in her community of Fort Qu'Appelle, where she works for the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council.

"Unfortunately a lot of our Indigenous population suffers from diseases like childhood obesity and diabetes," said Griffith.

"I feel like this program is really important, especially for development of our youth, our kids in the schools.

"If they can learn how to be physically active and enjoy physical activity, I feel like that's only going to better the quality of life for our Indigenous population and ultimately our whole population as Canada."

Griffith said the program incorporated the medicine wheel concept and information about how Indigenous communities were physically active historically.

She believes the content that was added for Indigenous participants is culturally relevant.

Incorporating culture

"Culture is so broad, I feel like they did a good job of generalizing," said Griffith.

"You don't want to go specific because, you can't say 'This is the Cree way' because you have your Dakota (culture).

"They touched a little bit on the history, the historic way of living, how our people used to live, and I think that only empowers people."

Program could expand

SPRA physical activity and fitness consultant Wendy McKellar said there are hopes to expand the program outside Saskatoon.

"We'll evaluate this program, we're getting lots of great feedback from the participants, and then moving forward we will look at how it could be implemented across the province possibly," said McKellar.

"We're not sure how that looks yet but it would be probably with partnerships with communities, organizations, to help host it in various locations."