Cultural connections can play an important role in the wholistic wellness of Indigenous children

Riley, K. ., Chow, A. F., Wahpepah, K. ., Houser, N. ., Brussoni, M. ., Stevenson, E. ., … Humbert, M. L. (2023). A nature’s way—Our way pilot project case assemblage: (Re)storying child/physical literacy/land relationships for Indigenous preschool-aged children’s wholistic wellness. Children, 10.

Nature’s Way–Our Way (NWOW) is a culturally rooted physical literacy (PL) initiative implemented in several early childhood education centers in Canada to promote Indigenous preschool children’s wholistic wellness. NWOW was developed around the idea that PL movement opportunities enriched by Indigenous cultural connections could promote resilience, creativity, and joy in movement while also helping preschool-aged children meet daily recommendations of PA. The focus of a pilot project implementing the NWOW program was on the self-efficacy of the educators to role model and promote PL.

Three early childhood educators participated in the implementation of NWOW over a ten-month period. They first participated in a professional development workshop focusing on how to use Indigenous games, activities, cultural connections, and traditional teachings to promote PL with young children. They were also introduced to the philosophy and theory of this approach to PL and provided with a set of NWOW resources. Conversational interviews with the educators were used “to garner stories pertaining to ‘knowledge and encounters with PL,’ ‘cultural practices rooted in PL,’ and ‘enablers and barriers to culturally rooted PL’ stories.” Narratives from the researcher team were entangled with the stories from the three early childhood educators.

The educator stories indicated that engagement with NWOW’s resources promoted a stronger sense of efficacy for the teachers to engage in active play and movement with the children and with land. The educator stories also revealed transformative moments of rupture, defined as “the small fissures in orthodox ways of understanding movement phenomena that initiate a minor, dissident flow that spreads away from spaces housing dominant discourses.” Colonial logics of movement separates mobile children from the land upon which they move. Indigenous logics differs in that it encompasses radical relationality with land.

Framing the NWOW initiative is the understanding that “Indigenous peoples’ experiences of poor health outcomes cannot be separated from ongoing structures of colonialism.” A concern addressed through the NWOW initiative relates to colonialism and how it removed Indigenous peoples from the land and stabilized this disconnection through continuing colonial structures. This research indicates that land, when it “becomes a vital and lively part of PL storying,” can play an important role in the wholistic wellness of Indigenous preschool-aged children.

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