iNative Blog - The Notah Begay III Foundation


Welcome to our community partner blog – iNative!

We are excited to provide a space for guest bloggers to reflect and share their perspectives in creating healthy environments that promote healthy food and physical activity for Native children – at home, at work and within their communities. Each quarter we will invite a Native guest blogger (I.e community partner/grantee, health advocate, tribal leader, etc.) to share their personal triumphs, challenges and ongoing pursuits to improve the health of Native children.

NB3FIT Day Brings Good Health and Good Feelings (November 23, 2016)


From running to kickball to swimming to snake dancing, about 10,000 Native American youth across the country got moving on November 15 for the inaugural NB3FIT Day.

Encouraging healthy lifestyles among Native children, the Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation launched NB3FIT this month, a national campaign to help promote physical activity in Native communities. One hundred fifteen tribes and Native American organizations across 26 states sponsored physical activities for a minimum of one hour on one day.

From the tundra to the desert, youth learned yoga, biked, hiked or played basketball, among several activities. Youth in the Village of Barrow, Alaska, participated in traditional Eskimo games, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation held the Mvskoke Youth Games, and the Ho-Chunk Nation had double ball, lacrosse, and snake and green corn traditional dances in Black River Falls, WI. Youth and their families were treated to a 9-hole golf scramble tournament in Cochiti Pueblo, N.M.

“Tribes and Native organizations heeded the call and displayed a commitment to improve the health and fitness of Native youth,” said Justin Kii Huenemann, NB3 Foundation President and CEO. “The number of events taking place across Indian Country on one day was amazing and inspiring. Any effort to improve and strengthen the health of our children rests in our hands as parents, families, communities and tribal nations. No one is going to do it for us.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people ages 6–17 participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily for the best health benefits, which is crucial in Native communities where an estimated one-third of Native youth are overweight and one out of two Native children will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.

In the Pueblo of Zuni, N.M., more than seven dozen youth and their families participated in a 2-mile walk and run, dodge ball, soccer, flag football and Zumba at the Zuni Fairgrounds sponsored by the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP), a nonprofit providing youth activities. Youth and their families also participated in a community clean up.

The outdoor music and chatter at the fairgrounds prompted residents of all ages to partake in the day’s events, including some adults who didn’t have children with them. They walked and danced, said Andrea Pepin, ZYEP nutrition education coordinator.

“An elderly woman came out when she heard the music. I said, ‘You’re welcomed to join us.’ She jumped right in and started to Zumba,” Pepin said. “That totally spoke to what NB3 Foundation’s goal was — get as many kids and people out moving for one hour that day. We had kids from 2 years old to that individual that came out from her home, which was really special to us.”

Consistent physical activity can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to the Health and Human Services Department. Regular physical activity among youth helps control weight, improve strength and endurance, build healthy bones and muscles, reduce anxiety and stress, and increase self-esteem.

In Akwesasne, N.Y., more than 150 members of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe walked or ran while learning about their clanship in the event sponsored by Project Good Mind, a new nonprofit dedicated to the Mohawk teachings of using a good mind in every day interactions with yourself, others and the earth. Participants where given a white tree seedling to plant as a reminder to be mindful and take care of the earth.

“It’s important for all of us adults and leaders of our communities to set the tone and pave the way for our youth to understand how important our physical self is and we do that by showing them,” Project Good Mind Co-Founder Shannon Hall said. “It’s getting them to understand that physical activity affects you emotionally, spiritually and mentally, which makes us whole.”

At the NB3 Foundation headquarters in New Mexico, the organization sponsored the first NB3FIT National Cross Country Race for youth and adults at the Santa Ana Golf Club. The event included an open 5k and 3k, and a 1k for ages 1-10. The day also included an All-Native American high school race that also was an official qualifying race for Wings of America’s National Team. With over 200 runners, the day was enjoyed by young and old alike who participated and cheered on the runners.

“National NB3FIT Day was a monumental event that created awareness and activity for Native communities across the country,” Foundation founder Notah Begay III said. “The sooner that tribal communities realize the urgency of the health epidemic facing our people, the sooner programs can be mobilized to level off the devastating impact type 2 diabetes is having on our children.”

To view images from events around the country, please visit the NB3FIT Day Photo Gallery.

For more tips on staying healthy, nutritional information and physical activity, check out our recent NB3 Foundation Fall Newsletter.


Ideas, Examples to Reduce Sugary Drinks Among Native American Children at First Healthy Beverage Summit (February 8, 2017)


Ideas, Examples to Reduce Sugary Drinks Among Native American Children at First Healthy Beverage Summit

From a junk food tax, to traditional teas, to changing shopping habits, participants in the first summit discussed ideas, challenges and current local and national progress in reducing consumption of sugary drinks by Native American children.

“Water is sacred. Sodas have become part of our tradition. It’s time to decolonize your drink,” said Andrea Pepin, Zuni Youth Enrichment Project nutrition education coordinator, quoting a fellow colleague.

Pepin was among 125 people who attended Notah Begay III Foundation’s Healthy Beverage Summit to find ways to reduce the consumption of soda, sports, fruit drinks and other sugared beverages among Native youth. The sold out February 8th gathering at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M., was the first of three for grant recipients, health advocates and others interested in promoting water and breastfeeding as a first choice in Native communities.

The event was part of the Water First! project, a 2 ½ year NB3 Foundation initiative partnering with nine Native communities across New Mexico and the Navajo Nation to combat sugared drinks. Click here for a full listing of the grantees and a summary of their projects.

The work becomes more eminent as sweetened drinks now represent the biggest source of added sugar in American diets. The beverages have been linked to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and liver and heart disease.

“We are having a serious epidemic of both obesity and diabetes,” said Keynote Speaker Dr. Jim Krieger, Executive Director of Health Food America, a national nonprofit that uses science to drive change in policy and industry practice.

He said obesity in America has been growing since the 1980s, with an increase in diabetes in the 90s. “We’re seeing it level off a bit but we’ve never seen anything like this grow so big so fast,” Krieger said.

Native Americans have been disproportionately affected. In New Mexico alone, 50 percent or one out of two Native American third-graders are either overweight or obese, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

What’s causing the epidemic is that Americans simply are consuming too much sugar, according to Krieger. Forty-six percent of sugars and added calories in American diets come from sweetened beverages, which have no nutritional benefit. In one study of Navajo students, 86 percent of girls and 93 percent of boys were drinking at least one soda daily.

Read about how one of our grant recipients is reducing sugary drinks

 One way to reduce consumption is through education, such as the warning labels put on tobacco products, or decreasing the availability of sugary drinks through policy, such as requiring supermarkets to put healthier beverages near the cashier isles.

Another way to diminish sugary drinks, Krieger said, is an added tax on the beverages, something Berkeley and Mexico have done. Berkeley, Calif., the first U.S. city to implement such a tax, saw a 21 percent decrease in consumption in low-income communities only after five months. Mexico, the first country in the world to pass a tax, saw overall consumption decline 12 percent and a 17 percent reduction in low-income communities.

The Navajo Nation, the first tribe in the country to pass a 2 percent tax on “junk food,” food with no nutritional value, projects $2 million annually from its tax, which will go to each of the 34 chapter houses, local governing districts, for community wellness projects, such as farming and community trails.

Closing Keynote Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez, a leading example of how Native people can live a healthy lifestyle after dropping 300 pounds and becoming an avid runner, said the Diné and others need to remind themselves about the traditional ways of overcoming adversity, fighting what he called the “monsters” of the 21st century—diabetes and heart disease.

The Diné used to get up early, heard sheep or farm in the scorching desert sun, and survived the Long Walk, a 300-mile trek Navajos made from their homelands to an internment camp. These traditions or events provide a great teaching of overcoming and resilience, Nez said.

“You have the ability to change your life for good,” Nez said, sharing his story as an obese Shonto Chapter community leader who would try to encourage young people to live healthier lives until a teenager’s words tore into him, “Every time we see you, you get bigger and bigger.” The comment was the impetus for Nez to start walking, which turned into a love of running. He recently started training for an ultra marathon at 100k.

“When you change and when your family changes, you have the ability to change your community. You cannot help somebody if you cannot take care of yourself,” he said.

One big step in taking care of ourselves and our children is to look at how often and how much we consume sugary drinks, said Justin Kii Huenemann, NB3 President and CEO.

“It is our hope that this summit and the ongoing work of the nine grantees are not only building education and awareness across a broad mix of stakeholders, but will in fact inspire individual, family and community-led changes,” he said.

Thanks to funding from the WK Kellogg Foundation, the NB3 Foundation plans to host the 2nd Healthy Beverage Summit in 2018 building on participant and grantee discussions and ideas, and will continue to provide knowledge, resources and strengthen relationships needed to drive innovative ways to reduce the consumption of sweetened beverages among our Native American children.


Establishing Better Eating and Wellness Habits in the Early Years

I have a clear memory of my grandfather telling me as a child when he saw me eating Doritos, “That is not food.” As I got older, I started thinking about why he said that. Today as a mother and a teacher at Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC) in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, I think about where our food comes from and how I can teach my daughters healthy eating habits and wellness practices. At KCLC, we aim to provide a holistic approach to education that incorporates the following guiding principles for our school around eating and wellness:
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