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Aboriginal children in north Simcoe will soon have 28 new programs to jumpstart physical activity, thanks to $525,000 in funding from the Ontario government.

Starting Jan. 1, kids 12 and younger will be able to participate in free activities such as fishing, swimming, snowshoeing, a toddler gym and wilderness camping. Transportation programs will be available for all activities.

“(The goal is) to increase children’s health through physical activity, reduce the amount of screen time and increase healthy eating opportunities and skills,” said Jessica North, Chigamik Community Health Centre program co-ordinator.

Chigamik is working with several First Nations organizations to implement the programs. North Simcoe is one of 45 places selected for the three-year Healthy Kids Community Challenge initiative. It was one of six communities chosen across Ontario.

Locally, the first phase will run from the start of the new year to June 30, and the entire project will end in March 2018.

“It’s exciting. It speaks to how we can do more as a community,” North said. “A lot of aboriginal organizations are underfunded. We have a group of children that don’t have equal access.”

Chigamik hosted a community event Nov. 23 in Tay Township to get a better understanding of the recreation and physical-activity interests, needs, barriers and participation patterns of First Nations children. About 50 kids and their parents took part in focus groups and obstacle courses and designed vision boards about their ideal communities, North said.

She said organizers found children prefer group-based and outdoor activities. She added spending money to transport them to recreational activities is also a major concern.

“We could be taking money out of their food budget for the week,” she said, adding free transportation was built into the new programs to address this concern.

North said she hopes the project will be a shining example for other municipalities: “(We can inspire) greater advocacy for the greater aboriginal community.”

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