Right To Play in Canada

The Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program began with the support of two northern Ontario First Nations in 2010. Over the past ten years, the program has grown to reach more than 75 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities and organizations.

In these partnerships, Indigenous communities hire a local child-and-youth worker -- a Community Mentor -- who understands the needs of the community and can deliver a safe and inclusive play-based program intended to increase physical activity, teach positive coping skills, connect youth with local languages and culture, and build transferable life skills. Right To Play provides customized training, coaching, and resources to help Community Mentors to set up successful and impactful programs for children and youth.

The PLAY program has been formally endorsed by Indigenous leadership bodies including the Assembly of First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. It is guided by an Indigenous Advisory Circle made up of Indigenous educators, community development experts, youth leaders, lawyers, and First Nation elders.

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The challenges faced by Indigenous children and youth in Canada

The historical and ongoing impacts of colonization, forced placement of Indigenous children into residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries, removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities during the “Sixties scoop,” and forced relocation of communities have resulted in the breakdown of traditional family, community, political, and economic structures; the loss of language, culture, and traditions; the intergenerational transmission of trauma; and educational and economic marginalization for Indigenous people.

The legacy of colonization has created a two-tiered system where many Indigenous children are denied access to quality education. This is due to a combination of factors that include but are not limited to chronic underfunding and geographic isolation. Indigenous children experience significantly poorer health than their non-Indigenous peers. This inequality in health outcomes is derived from disparities in the social determinants of health.

  • 61% of First Nations youth aged 20 to 24 have not completed secondary school as compared to 13% of non-indigenous youth.
  • 52% of children in foster care in Ontario are Indigenous, even though they make up only 17% of the population.
  • 40% of Indigenous children are living in poverty.
  • The suicide rate for First Nations youth aged 15 to 24 is 6.3 times higher than the suicide rate for non-indigenous youth.
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Fostering physical and psychosocial well-being


Right To Play supports Community Mentors to design and deliver after-school programs that promote healthy lifestyles through physical activity and the preparation and enjoyment of nutritious food. Together with a diverse range of technical partners, Community Mentors are supported to organize sports for development clinics that reinforce critical life skills like communication and teamwork, and impart technical skills through a wide variety of activities including hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, hoop dancing, and Guardian Arts, an Anishnabek form of martial arts.

Right To Play-supported community programs also promote the psychosocial health of Indigenous children and youth. Intergenerational events help children and youth make connections with parents and elders. Other activities are designed to increase positive coping skills and build knowledge on where and how to access support services. At times of community crisis, Right To Play supports additional front-line youth programming on an emergency basis.


The biggest change is how much more I believe in myself. I thought that I wasn’t able to do much but now I just want a better future for everyone. Just because I am little, doesn’t mean I can’t do big things. I have dreams I plan to get.” — 11 year-old PLAY participant.


Elevating the leadership and voices of Indigenous youth

Right To Play uses a variety of strategies to support both youth and Community Mentors to build leadership skills. Many Community Mentors move on from their positions into leadership roles in their Band Councils and in other organizations and institutions.

One of the primary ways we build leadership in youth do that is by offering an annual Youth Leadership Symposium. In addition to this, our “Youth in Action” curriculum is designed to help Community Mentors foster youth leadership throughout regular programming. In the 2018-19 program year, young leaders planned 140 community-building events.

Increasingly, Right To Play is creating space for youth to shape their own programs, helping to ensure that programs are responsive to the needs and interests of their communities, and enabling youth to build confidence in their leadership abilities. We also support Indigenous youth to advocate on issues that are important to them with provincial and national governments.

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Building life skills for educational and employment success

The PLAY program positions children and youth for future success by helping them to plan for the future, build self-confidence, and prepare for employment. Right To Play operates employability programs in Pikangikum First Nation by providing older youth direct training and employment, and recently piloted, together with its community partners and reBOOT Canada, a summer program designed to develop computer literacy, employment skills, and skills in computer repair.

In a new initiative with Ryerson University and The Chang School of Continuing Education, Right To Play is developing a postsecondary certificate program for Indigenous child-and-youth practitioners. Designed to address some of the barriers Indigenous students face in succeeding in post-secondary education, the program will follow a tailored and culturally-relevant curriculum delivered through online credit courses, provide individual coaching and support, and offer a work practicum in the community.

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Right To Play gratefully acknowledges the support of all of its financial and technical partners and of the members of the Play Advisory Circle. Supporters of our programs in Canada include the Government of Canada, Government of Ontario, The Slaight Family Foundation, Peter Gilgan Foundation, Chamandy Foundation, Suncor Energy, Sun Life Financial, National Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Canada, Rogers Family Foundation, and supporters like you.