"I would love to blast some pow music and just dance": Aboriginal students' experiences of physical activity on campus


Although physical activity is valued in Aboriginal communities (Bruner, 2008), an in depth understanding of the physical activity experiences among Canadian urban Aboriginal peoples is absent from the literature (McHugh, 2011).  The purpose of this study was to explore narratives of Aboriginal university students’ physical activity experiences on campus.  Five First Nations students (n = 4 women; ages = 18-28 years) engaged in a sharing circle and one-on-one interviews.  Three participants reported weekly physical activity levels that obtain substantial health benefits (Godin, 2011).  Three main themes emerged from the narratives: (1) We are similar but unique, (2) A longing for tradition, and (3) Extending a personal connection with physical activity.  The participants’ stories included many challenges with physical activity on campus, some of which were unique to the Aboriginal student experience (e.g., lack of traditional activities) and grew increasingly complex as their narratives unfolded (e.g., attributing some difficult experiences to others’ misguided assumptions, attitudes, and stereotypes).  The participants shared strategies they use to deal with various challenges, including self-talk, incorporating significant others, and attempting to integrate traditional beliefs and practices.  The potential of self-compassion (Neff, 2003) as a way to manage difficult physical activity experiences was discussed.  Perceived benefits of extending compassion towards the self were acknowledged, as well as similarities between self-compassion with traditional teachings; however, the participants were also concerned about being too self-compassionate, a sentiment that has been previously noted (Ferguson et al., 2014; Sutherland et al., in press).  Further research and collaborative approaches are needed to: (1) develop university initiatives that generate more physical activity options as well as enhance the quality of physical activity experiences for Aboriginal students, and (2) explore culturally-relevant resources that might be useful for Aboriginal students dealing with difficult physical activity experiences. 

Acknowledgments: Thank you to the participants for sharing their experiences, and to the University of Saskatchewan for providing funding to complete this research.