U of A students design SHED to house sport, gaming equipment for Indigenous community

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Sheds may conjure images of gardening gear and old lawnmowers, but some competitive students have repurposed the name and filled one with tools for fun at a First Nation community northwest of Edmonton.

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Working with Indigenous mentors, University of Alberta students designed the structure to store and enable access to sports and recreation equipment as well as materials for arts and crafts. Dubbing it the SHED (spiritual holistic exercise den), they installed it at Kapawe’no First Nation, just northwest of Lesser Slave Lake.

Undergrads in the university’s faculty of kinesiology, sport and recreation pitched the idea in a case competition as part of their practicum, which had participants design a solution to a challenge posed by an organization. In this case they were working with the Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta (ISCA), which helps remove barriers limiting Indigenous access to sport and recreation.

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Tracy Whatmore, the faculty practicum adviser who organized the competition, said students were responding to survey results ISCA collected from the communities it serves, some of whom highlighted a need for sports and physical activity facilities, particularly on reserves and in rural areas.

“The survey results revealed that these community members would participate if such programs or access to equipment existed,” Whatmore said in a phone interview. Out of 22 teams in the competition, the group behind the SHED project met that demand with a first-place pitch, she added, “and so far the evaluation of the project is amazingly positive.”

With support from a CEWIL Canada grant that funds work-integrated learning, the students spent the past winter bringing a pilot SHED to life before launching it at Kapawe’no First Nation in May, Whatmore said.

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Not unlike Edmonton’s Green Shack program, which provides hubs for games and pastimes throughout the city, the SHED holds equipment for land-based activities such as archery, fishing and hunting, as well as baseball, volleyball and other mainstream sports, Whatmore added.

Students selected the contents in consultation with the community, Whatmore explained, and included materials for traditional activities such as beading and games such as high kick, a sport that has contestants jump vertically to kick a hanging target.

“It needed to be co-created,” Whatmore said. “It had to reflect what the data is showing, and it had to have feedback from those who live in Indigenous communities.”

To that end, ISCA also provided student teams with access to Indigenous advisers and judges who guided and evaluated their work.

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ISCA executive director Jacob Hendy told Postmedia the organization is hearing rave reviews about the SHED, and interest from several other Indigenous communities hoping for their own as well.

“We’d love to scale up if we can get some more funding,” Hendy said over the phone. “Having a one-stop shop to house everything — not a lot of places have that.”

Whatmore said she’s already applying for another grant to fund an expansion.

The pilot SHED cost about $7,500 dollars fully stocked, she said, and she’s hoping to have students create four more — a potential boon for communities as well as students who get to apply their education in the real world.

Youths stand outside a shed designed to house sport, game and craft equipment at Kapawe’no First Nation.
Youths stand outside a shed designed to house sport, game and craft equipment at Kapawe’no First Nation. Photo by Tracy Whatmore /Supplied

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