"it's a big adjustment coming from the reserve to living in a totally different society": Exploring the well-being of first nations athletes playing sport in an urban "mainstream" context


Indigenous athletes who are interested in pursuing sport at elite levels and seeking broader opportunities in Canada often relocate from their home communities to urban "mainstream" centres. Their reasons for relocating may include seeking elite facilities and coaching expertise as well as accessing more competitive sport environments. Adjusting to a mainstream context may involve navigating challenges such as racism and discrimination, isolation from family, friends, and community, and a dismissed cultural identity. The purpose of our study was to explore how the psychological well-being of Indigenous athletes pursuing sport in mainstream context is impacted by their relocation and multicultural adjustment experiences. The experiences of two Indigenous female athletes who relocated from a remote First Nations community to pursue hockey in an urban centre were explored using a qualitative case study. Grounded in an Indigenous research framework, we adopted culturally relevant methods of conversational group interviews and photovoice reflections to hear stories from the athletes, parents, and billets. The transcribed data was analyzed using Stake's (1995) categorical aggregation method. Five main categories were created to explain how the athletes adjusted and strove to flourish in their new environment including: (1) Having an interconnected web of support; (2) Managing emotional challenges; (3) Being comfortable in the new environment; (4) Progressing while dealing with setbacks and; (5) Maintaining a cultural connection to their home community. These findings suggest that Indigenous athletes who relocate from their home communities require a robust support network and nurturing environment to flourish in an urban mainstream context.

Acknowledgments: This work was supported by a Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation Establishment Grant.