Participation opportunities for Indigenous athletes exist in a variety of activities and in contexts ranging from the community level through to international competitions. The overall sport system available to Indigenous participants in Canada has been described as a “double helix” (Forsyth and Paraschak 2014) based on the biological model of two parallel strands stabilized by cross-links.
The two strands—the mainstream sport system and the Indigenous sport system—operate independently and connect at times through shared activities. Alex Nelson, a leading builder of the Indigenous sport movement, used this concept to explain the relationship between the two sport systems to policy makers.
The double helix model reinforces that separate choices for sporting activities are available to Indigenous participants, while emphasizing the connectedness of the two sports systems in select sporting practices (Forsyth and Paraschak 2014).
The mainstream sport system would include local, provincial/territorial and national sport organizations who provide opportunities to compete in mainstream sports within Canada and internationally in events such as the Olympics and World Championships.
The Indigenous sport system would include provincial/territorial Indigenous sport bodies and the Aboriginal Sport Circle at the national level and the World Indigenous Games internationally . These organizations along with various Indigenous tournament committees (e.g., the Little NHL) and the North American Indigenous Games, provide mainstream and culturally derived sports, usually with the expectation that all competitors must be of Indigenous heritage.
In addition to participating in mainstream sports such as are found in the Canada Games and the Olympics, athletes of Indigenous heritage also participate in organized competitions linked to traditional cultural activities, such as snow snake, hand games, and various Inuit and Dene games. Additionally, Indigenous participants have engaged in mainstream sport activities within the Indigenous sport system, wherein all participants and often the organizers are of Indigenous heritage, such as the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.