Canoe/Kayak- A “traditional way of life”

Canoe/Kayak- A “traditional way of life”

Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario’s canoe and kayak instructor, Keir Johnston, takes a holistic approach to teaching the sport to participants in the Standing Bear Youth Leadership program.

An elite level canoe/kayak athlete, Johnston has travelled the globe competing in major international competitions but says when he introduces the sport to the Standing Bear youth he brings it right back down to its roots.

I always try to instill that canoeing and kayaking is more than a sport but it was our traditional mode of transportation as Indigenous Peoples,” said Johnston who is also ISWO’s High Performance and Games Manager. “There’s really a big wellness aspect to this for me. The strength required is very powerful but the connection with water is quite powerful as well.”

Raised by avid white-water trippers, Johnston who is Ojibwe through his mother, entered his first boat at five-months-old. Still just a twenty-something-year-old, he says he’s thrilled every time he gets the opportunity to connect younger participants to their Indigenous ancestry through sport.

In his teachings, Johnston instills what he says are the three key aspects to the water sport—canoeing for travel and hunting, canoeing for pleasure and canoeing for competition.

“The way I got started as a kid was just enjoying the canoe and enjoying the rush of white water which there is a lot in the northern parts of Ontario,” said Johnston. “As I developed my skills, I got more into trying to go as fast as I can.”

“I try to teach it both ways for them to understand that canoeing doesn’t just have to be about pushing yourself in a workout to the point of pain. You can also just go out and enjoy the water and what it has to offer.”


Author: Wendy-Ann Clarke


Standing Bear is a culturally grounded program developed by Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario to strengthen individual and community wellness by empowering Indigenous youth in making positive change.