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The COVID-19 pandemic has once again thrust the health vulnerability of Indian Country into the light.  In less than six months, the Navajo Nation held the top spot of most positive cases per capita in the United States. We witnessed relief fund after relief fund pop-up and millions of dollars pour into the Navajo Nation and beyond. The level of human capital invested in helping our relatives alone was impressive, to say the least.  Indian Country found itself placing tens of millions of dollars into treating and protecting Native people, particularly the “high risk” and most vulnerable. Significant efforts, including curfews, travel bans, mask-wearing and lock-down orders were put in place to “prevent” the spread and growth of this pandemic.

 

For the most part, these orders and policies are being followed and slowly we are seeing the numbers slow down. We are witnessing entire norm changes in just a few short months. For example, wearing masks everywhere, social distancing, temperature checks at grocery stores, and no handshakes or hugs, to name a few.  It has been extraordinary to experience first-hand what has taken place since March 2020 and to see how quickly people are adapting- be it uncomfortably or begrudgingly.  On July 21st, the Navajo Nation had 8,617 positive cases, 6,369 recoveries and 442 confirmed deaths.  The numbers are better, but the health of the Navajo Nation remains tenuous at best.

 

Meanwhile, we have to ask- “Why are Native peoples so vulnerable to this pandemic?” Of course, there are many factors that contribute to this answer. One contributor, unfortunately, continues to be UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHOICES. The fact remains, a significant portion of the vulnerable and high-risk individuals in Indian Country are saddled with PREVENTABLE diseases: obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and even some cancers.  While we can site many factors for why these preventable chronic diseases ravage our communities, one fact remains- lack of healthy opportunities and choices leading to unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices.  Current lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, overuse of alcohol, and inadequate relief of chronic stresses are key contributors in the development and progression of preventable chronic diseases. The result is a high number of Native people now labeled “high-risk,” who are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 and who lack the full capabilities to fight of this virus and others.

 

If there is a silver lining in this pandemic, it has revealed that we can make major shifts, decisions and investments to protect and help our relatives when we want to and when the will is there. How do we harness this current “will” and move ourselves further into full health prevention norms and practices?  How do we normalize healthy behaviors? How do we support and invest in systemic approaches to healthy norms and lifestyles, including food, physical activity and mental and emotional respite?  How do we invest in our children at a level we have invested into COVID-19?  How do we create the same level of urgency for the wellbeing of our children and families as we did for the most vulnerable during COVID-19? How do we embrace the full concept of prevention and lead from a place of strength, knowledge and inspiration?

 

If there ever was a time to rethink, redirect and commit our resources, energy and knowledge to creating a sustainable and healthy future—now is the time.

Wellness is running with all your peers when you are young (and old) so you will be strong and continue to grow physically and spiritually

Wellness is dancing your heart out in a communal setting knowing that you are all there supporting one another in heart and spirit

Wellness is praying in the morning and evening in your Pueblo/Tribal Way

Wellness is being good to people and helping others when you are able

Wellness is learning what you can and using that knowledge to benefit your people

Wellness is farming, sharing and celebrating what you have harvested

Wellness is nourishing your children’s bodies (and your own) with “real food”

Wellness is making time for our families and being “present” with them

Wellness is working hard so you can contribute to the well-being of your family

Ahweya planting with Iiwas

Wellness is being happy for others when they succeed and having compassion when they fail

Wellness is honoring the persistence of our Pueblo people and remembering that our ancestors enacted the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 through the tradition of running

Wellness is taking to heart what our elders and leaders preach and then doing your best to apply those teachings to your daily life

Wellness is helping your children learn to make good choices for their healthy development and growth

Wellness is rethinking and redefining education for your children

Wellness is doing your best to speak and use your Keres, Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, Zuni, Hopi, Dine language everyday

Wellness in your community is integrated and is not separate from the rest of our lives

Opportunities for wellness in our Pueblo communities—and all our Tribal/Indigenous communities—are all around us and they are beautiful. It is up to us to participate in those activities for the sake of our children’s health. These things are what my grandparents, my mom, my Aunt Joann and Uncle Jie , my husband, my mother-in-law, my children, my Aunt Nadine, Aunt Rose, my cousins, my brothers and sisters and countless others have taught me with their words and their actions.

 

NB3 Indigenous Early Childhood Challenge: If appropriate to share, please share one belief, practice, or saying your tribe upholds to ensure the wellbeing and healthy eating habits of your children. Please also share your tribal affiliation.  We will pick one comment to be highlighted on the banner going across our NB3 Foundation Website.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the NB3 Foundation, its board or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

We reserve the right to delete, edit, or alter in any manner we see fit. Blog entries or comments that we, in our sole discretion, deem to be obscene, offensive, defamatory, threatening, in violation of trademark, copyright or other laws, of an express commercial nature, or otherwise unacceptable.

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:

 

KCLC practices traditional Cochiti beliefs about food, food preparation, eating, serving and exercise.

  • KCLC believes it is important to train children’s minds and palates through good nutrition and cooking experiences at school by preparing and tasting healthy alternatives to unhealthy foods.
  • KCLC supports families in developing healthy eating habits.
  • KCLC provides children with authentic opportunities for movement and other physical activities that will help prevent future health problems such as diabetes, obesity and coronary disease.

Traditional values support the healthy development of children in daily life.

It is especially important to practice these beliefs early. Beginning with encouraging mothers to breastfeed in the early development of the child’s palate and then continuing with healthy foods in the first few years of life into the preschool years. This is not easy. We are constantly bombarded with bad food choices and opportunities to not take care of our bodies. As a result, it is our responsibility as the adults, parents and grandparents to be firm by not allowing our children to eat processed foods on a regular basis—period. Parents and adults in the household need to be the role models.

At KCLC, we have put this belief into practice by implementing a healthy foods policy and working with the parents to provide healthy food options in school lunches and not allowing sugary sweetened beverages. It’s not that we can’t celebrate a birthday with cake, we do, but it is seeing cake, chips, candy, chicken nuggets as a “guest food.” As a result, our older students now tell the younger students who bring juice or chicken nuggets that they cannot bring those foods to school. The children do not fully comprehend why, but they understand it has something to do with their health and wellbeing. As part of the learning at KCLC, the children are looking at their world and identifying what foods grow where, why we should eat more locally and how much waste packaged food items create.

My grandparents taught us not to be choosy with what we ate. My husband and I continue that tradition in teaching our own daughters how to eat healthy and to eat what was served. We are fortunate that we still come from a tradition of cooking from scratch. However, this tradition continues to be compromised by packaged and processed foods. With my own children and my students at KCLC, I take into consideration our Pueblo beliefs around food. Having respect for food and not being choosy about what one eats.

I am neither a dietician nor a nutritionist and do not pretend to be. However, I am a parent and community member who wants our children in our Indigenous communities to have healthy teeth, bodies. Also, to have a chance to experience their lives to the fullest potential with all that the beauty of our languages, traditions and ceremonies hold for us.

At KCLC, it is important for us to start planning our garden, because we eventually want children to regain the understanding of growing our own food. That is who we are as Pueblo people and unfortunately, so many of us have gotten away from that base. Ultimately, my grandfather was right. Doritos are not food. He knew what was food, because he grew his own food until he passed away when he was 85 years old. He was fit, healthy and truly enjoyed his life to the fullest. My grandfather helped me navigate my food choices by showing me the difference between real food and fake food (processed foods). With his pointed observation about Doritos, he demonstrated that rejecting fake food is not being choosy, it’s being traditional.

Our Indigenous languages and cultures have a beautiful, proactive, integrated tradition of feeding our communities starting with babies and breastfeeding.  Eating healthy and encouraging wellness must be seen as an integrated aspect of our everyday lives. Eating healthy and wellness are not glamorous things to do, but they are the right things to do so that our children can enjoy all the beautiful things in life and have the strength to endure the hard times as well.

 

NB3 Indigenous Early Childhood Challenge: If appropriate to share, please share one belief, practice, or saying your tribe upholds to ensure the wellbeing and healthy eating habits of your children. Please also share your tribal affiliation.  We will pick one comment to be highlighted on the banner going across our NB3 Foundation Website.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the NB3 Foundation, its board or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

We reserve the right to delete, edit, or alter in any manner we see fit. Blog entries or comments that we, in our sole discretion, deem to be obscene, offensive, defamatory, threatening, in violation of trademark, copyright or other laws, of an express commercial nature, or otherwise unacceptable.

Historically, eating and wellness in our Indigenous communities were practiced in an integrated way. Today, we know many of those practices have changed which has led to an all time high of childhood obesity in our tribal/indigenous communities. We know that Indigenous families want the best for their children, so how do we turn this tide of childhood obesity?

My grandparents had a big hand in raising me and their proactive teachings about health and wellness continue to be my guide to this day as a mother, teacher and community member. I was fortunate to grow up learning how to cook from my grandmother who is from Cochiti Pueblo, NM, watch my grandfather of Santo Domingo Pueblo, NM and grow corn, squash and chile with my brothers. The many teachings about food—eating it, handling it, respecting it—have guided my food choices in this modern age.

My grandparents taught me about wholesome, nutritious food and the traditions grounded in our language and culture, which recognized and valued the blessings of life. As Indigenous peoples, we are fortunate to come from religions, practices and beliefs that include food and wellness in an integrated way. Food is sacred and what we put in our bodies should be nourishing and provide wellness. Food is what we gain our strength from and it’s what sustains us. Food is life. Food is love. Food should be respected. This is what my grandparents taught me.

We ask for rain through our ceremonies so that we could grow nutritious foods for our families. This traditional wisdom is what we need to turn our attention to in raising our children. Corporations that make unhealthy food and drinks that we are buying for our children do not care about the well being of our Indigenous communities. They create what my grandfather would call “not food,” because it is not grounded in our languages, spiritual practices, values and beliefs about raising children.

When we were small, my grandmother advised my brothers and I to fill up on bread to ensure that our bodies were nourished with the love that was put into making that bread. We have come to a time and place where calories are abundant, but food—good food—is increasingly scarce. We find ourselves for the first time ever having to consider if what we put in our mouths is actually food and if it nourishes us. How can we tell the difference? It is not by the taste. Highly processed food is full of salt, sugar and fat that can please our palate—but it’s been chemically altered to be addictive.

Aside from taste, there are other ways to make wholesome choices:

  1. Practice asking, “How does the food nourish me? What am I feeding my body when I consume it?” For example, bone stew nourishes our bodies by providing protein from the meat and is a good source of vitamin A from the corn.
  2. Look behind the food. Look to our languages, food and wellness traditions, and our ceremonies, which are far better compasses for navigating these choices than commercials and the advertising on the wrappers. Chips and drinking soda, give the body empty calories that elevate sugar levels and feeds an industry based on advertising, exploitation and creating an addicted consumer base. We have a lot of food choices, but we can’t make our choices based on face value or short-term taste satisfaction; it needs to be thoughtful.
  3. Pay attention to how we eat the food. Food we gobble out of Styrofoam or paper rushing between errands may stave off stomach grumbles, but food eaten at home (and during ceremonies), with loved ones, talking and sharing, feeds our bodies and our souls. It fills us with nutrients, not empty calories and does not cause us to “crash,” and seek more junk food with empty calories.

Choosing foods that are wholesome and nutritious can prevent childhood obesity and diabetes. It requires us (parents, grandparents, teachers, school administrators, etc.) to turn our thinking towards developing our children’s palates starting with breastfeeding, eating real food in the preschool years and including activities with movement in the everyday lives of our children. We, the adults, have to model and value the context of who we are as Indigenous peoples.

As Indigenous people, we need to re-examine and revive the proactive food and wellness traditions we had previously thrived on. We are already reconnecting with our languages, customs and spiritual practices. Another way we can reconnect to our customs is to focus on our Indigenous food systems and our health. Recognizing good food and having healthy relationships with our food will help us turn the tide of childhood obesity in our tribal communities, carrying us through the millennia to come.

Mililani Suina | Loretta and Zoey Cadero | Kai-t and Kawaika Blue-Sky | Kawaika Blue-Sky | Loretta and Zoey Cadero

 

NB3 Indigenous Early Childhood Challenge: If appropriate to share, please share one belief, practice, or saying your tribe upholds to ensure the wellbeing and healthy eating habits of your children. Please also share your tribal affiliation.  We will pick one comment to be highlighted on the banner going across our NB3 Foundation Website.

——————–

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the NB3 Foundation, its board or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

We reserve the right to delete, edit, or alter in any manner we see fit. Blog entries or comments that we, in our sole discretion, deem to be obscene, offensive, defamatory, threatening, in violation of trademark, copyright or other laws, of an express commercial nature, or otherwise unacceptable.

By Tamaya Wellness Center and NB3 Foundation

 

 

As August is National Breastfeeding Month, the Tamaya Wellness Center, located and owned by the Pueblo of Santa Ana of New Mexico, is proud to welcome nursing mothers to use their newly available Lactation Station. The quiet room in the Center’s 60,000 square foot facility offers a safe, secure place for breastfeeding mothers, who are tribal members, to feed and care for their babies.

“A mother’s milk is a baby’s first source of nutrients and breastfeeding creates a life-long nurturing connection between mother and child. Having a place at the Center where mothers can safely nurse their babies is an important part of Tamaya’s commitment to providing a healthy place for tribal members,” said the Center’s Youth Wellness and Recreation Manager Alina Potrzebowski. “We are thankful for the partnership and resources the NB3 Foundation provides through the Water First! grant. Their support has allowed us to initiate healthy, positive changes within the community.”

The Lactation Station was completed in summer 2018 starting with the vision and support of the Tamaya Wellness Center’s partnership with the Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation through the Water First! Learning Community. Tamaya Wellness Center is a recipient of the Water First! grant that aids tribes and Native-led organizations in their efforts to reduce sugary drinks and increase the consumption of healthy beverage alternatives (such as water, breastfeeding, indigenous teas, etc.) for Native children.

“The NB3 Foundation is so proud of the Tamaya Wellness Center in opening the lactation station. We offer a huge congratulations to the Center’s staff, administration and tribal leaders for supporting this effort,” said NB3 Foundation Vice President of Programs Olivia Roanhorse. “The Water First! team from the Tamaya Wellness Center are a dedicated group of people passionate about making healthier choices accessible for tribal members. It’s always a pleasure to work with them.”

 

The journey to the Lactation Station did not come without challenges. In 2016, the Center’s Water First! team started discussions with the facilities department about converting one of the four family bathrooms into a breastfeeding room. These bathrooms are equipped with a shower, sink, toilet, bench and baby changing station. By simply removing the toilet and adding a refrigerator, it could be transformed into a first-class lactation room.

But, further discussions was necessary, and through the tenacity of the Water First! team, negotiations continued and a compromise was reached. A corner of the teen center room would be used. It limits access to a closet that initially created some concerns but proper changes were made to accommodate a room for mothers.

Now the Lactation Station is equipped with cubicle walls, a comfortable chair, small refrigerator and shelf. A sign on the door indicates when the room is in use.

“More awareness on the breastfeeding room will come with the rollout of the Water First! campaign. Maybe someday the station will be moved to one of the family bathrooms. For now, we celebrate this step in the right direction,” Potrzebowski added.

NB3 Foundation’s Water First! Grants build on the knowledge, assets and values of Native American communities by providing financial support and resources to catalyze and inspire healthy habits and behaviors among Native American children across the country. Learn more about the Water First! Learning Community at: http://www.nb3foundation.org/water-first-learning-community-main/.

Resources:

IHS Blog: IHS Recognizes World Breastfeeding Week

IHS Breastfeeding Toolkit

 

Download Article Here!

Native-specific active lifestyle stories were created to share what’s working in Indian Country.

During the spring and summer of 2017, NB3F worked with James Bell Associates to conduct in-depth interviews with three of NB3F’s community partners (grantees): Inter Tribal Sports (CA), the STAR School (AZ), and the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (NM). 

We are honored to share the stories of three community partners that utilize the strengths of their communities to increase youth participation in physical activities. The active lifestyle stories describe (1) the evolution of the programs or initiatives, (2) the resources each program needed, and (3) the impact the programs had on their children, youth, and community. For more information about the featured community partners or their programs, please contact Michelle Gutierrez at michelle@nb3f.org.

 

 

This story features Inter Tribal Sports (ITS), a nonprofit organization working to unify tribal youth and communities through structured athletic programs, while providing resources and creating a foundation of culture, leadership, and wellness. Headquartered in Temecula, CA, ITS currently serves children and youth from 20 tribal communities spanning a nearly 200-mile area across 4 counties in Southern California. The organization is governed by a board of directors with diverse representation from over 20 participating tribes and tribal organizations.

Unifying Tribal Communities

In 2002, a group of adults from four tribal communities in Southern California noticed there was a lot of division between the communities, and it was affecting the youth. At that time, kids were playing “rez ball” (a type of backyard basketball with no structure or rules), but the adults felt the youth needed something more structured that would keep them busy and bring them together. To address this need, they created the area’s first intertribal flag football league. Additional tribes began to show interest, and the football league evolved to include basketball and softball in response to the demand for more sporting options for tribal youth and families. The league was renamed Inter Tribal Sports. By 2009, ITS became incorporated, with multiple tribal communities helping establish ITS as a nonprofit organization with a board of directors and administrative team handling the day-to-day operations.

To date, ITS has offered a range of recreation sports leagues, cultural gatherings, and wellness activities to tribal youth and their families from as many as 22 communities in the region. Through quality activities, ITS strives to keep tribal youth active year-round, connect them with healthy activities and opportunities for personal growth, and expose them to the culture of Southern California’s Native peoples. The vision of ITS, as described by the executive director, is to create “new, healthy Tribal Leaders for the entire region . . . [that have] relationships [with each other] as a result of ITS programs.” The executive director and the board hope that youth participating in ITS activities will serve as role models and that they will one day sit across from each other at their council tables and “share [a] connection of healthy lifestyle, through sports, nutrition, and culture.”

Free and Inclusive Activity

ITS offers coed basketball, flag football, softball, soccer, All Stars Basketball, cheer, and running programs to tribal boys and girls aged 4–18. ITS offers these year-round leagues at no cost to the families. Typically, young people play for the tribe with which they are associated or enrolled, although some choose the tribe closest to their homes. In recent years, because ITS includes communities from all parts of Southern California, it has organized the sports leagues into three regions—northern, central, and southern—to reduce travel costs and time. Teams practice in their own communities at least twice a week and play a team from their region on the weekend. Then two to three times per season, ITS brings all the communities together for events like sports skills camps, league opening day, and championship game events for friendly, healthy competitions.

Through support from Marathon Kids and Nike N7, ITS started its running program last year. The program is designed to encourage youth and families to run together, and its goal is to get participating youth and adults to complete four marathons each year. Last year, 6 reservations participated in the program; next year, ITS hopes to have 12 or more communities join the fun. ITS plans to host at least one running event each year with all of the participating communities, and it hopes to expand the event to each of the three regions.

The leagues and running program are open to all youth, regardless of gender, skill, or experience level. ITS encourages youth who haven’t played, but want a chance to play, to sign up. One parent and coach described ITS as “one of those organizations that—[if] you want a shot, [they’ll] give you a shot, no matter what. You don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to prove yourself . . . just come and play.” This guiding principle ensures that children and youth living on local reservations have access to sports and to each other. As a result, ITS has become a “household name,” said the former executive director, who added, “it’s amazing to see . . . how many tribes know [what] ITS is, and they just expect their kids to participate.” For one ITS staff member, the experience has come full circle: his son and daughter play in the same league he and his brother joined when they were growing up.

In addition to the physical activity programs, ITS offers free enrichment programs focused on leadership, culture, and wellness outreach. The wellness outreach activities are offered at events to the whole family and promote healthy eating and drinking. ITS staff provide nutrition education that includes understanding nutrition labels, the intake of carbohydrates and sugars, the impact of nutrition on diabetes, and the importance of portion control; they also incorporate indigenous foods into the educational programs by providing samples of cuisine from all different regions. Last, wellness outreach efforts teach families how to refuel after playing sports, and ITS puts this knowledge into action by providing free healthy snacks and beverages to kids during the ITS sports games through its outreach booth: Rez Dogg Refreshments. Rez Dogg is ITS’ mascot. His backstory is that he started out as a wild “rez dog” that ran loose, chasing things and eating trash. One day, he decided to make a lifestyle change and began eating healthy and being physically active. Rez Dogg comes to all ITS games to promote and share his healthy lifestyle, and all of the families love him. ITS is also in the process of developing a leadership program, which it hopes will complement existing programs and involve peer education, personal development, and community service.

Sharing and Practicing Culture

ITS’ integration of culture into its programming reflects a tradition of sharing between the tribes in the region. Historically, tribes in Southern California came together for games, trading, gatherings, and ceremonies; however, more recently, tribes often come together only to mourn at a funeral or to celebrate a birthday. ITS seeks to uphold the traditional values of unity, reciprocity, generosity, and mentoring by bringing tribal communities and different generations together in good ways to focus on health, wellness, and community through its programs and events.

The structure of the games allows for and encourages cultural practices and traditions. For example, one parent said, “There are some players or some teams that get blessed by somebody coming out there with the sage . . . Some people meditate before the game.” By allowing the time and space for these cultural practices to occur before games, youth and adults not only are exposed to other tribes’ traditions but also may be inspired to practice their own on the field. Many teams also count off in their language during team huddles and then say a word in their language or the opposing team’s traditional name. A league site supervisor said he teaches his players “culture is respect. Respect not only yourself but the people around and respect the elders, respect Mother Earth, and respect each other.” In addition, ITS starts its Opening Day and Championship Game events with an elder or representative from the host tribe providing an opening ceremony or blessing and a performance by the Kumeyaay bird singers and dancers. ITS also hosts one or two cultural gatherings each year, where as many as 100 ITS youth come together at one reservation to learn about different tribal cultures in the region, including language, foods, traditional crafts, art, music, and songs. These events are taught by local tribal members who possess special knowledge of their community’s cultures.

Community Resources Underpinning Inter Tribal Sports

The work of ITS would not be possible without the support of the board members, coaches, tribal leaders, parents, community members, external partners, and dedicated staff and volunteers. Both former and current executive directors express that the importance of this unique collaboration cannot be overstated. The former executive director also said, “Working with so many tribes with so many unique aspects about each one, whether it be their community . . . their location . . . their recreational facilities, without the support of each and every one of those tribes and tribal leaders, which then carries over to the board representatives, I don’t think ITS would even be in existence today.” Both executive directors feel strongly about community involvement and the importance of the board comprising relatives of participating youth and representatives from each tribe—a component that makes ITS so distinctive.

ITS also benefits from the parents and relatives of the participating youth, as these individuals volunteer as coaches and site supervisors. In these roles they lead practices, help set up games and events, and assist with scorekeeping and additional parent involvement at the games. One parent described the responsibility by saying, “I have to be here like an hour, an hour and a half before the games so that we can set up all the popups, chairs, field equipment, and everything like that . . . And you know, it’s a lot of responsibility, it’s a lot of time.” He said he found the work rewarding and that involving family members created a more comfortable learning environment for youth athletes.

ITS also attributes its success to the resources that each tribal community contributes. Some communities have large, high-quality recreation facilities that can be used for Opening Day and Championship Game events, which must support multiple games at once; other tribes provide ITS teams with large, well-maintained soccer fields and multicomplex softball fields. Sharing these resources supports those tribes that lack such facilities, enabling tribal youth from communities with less resources to join in quality athletics and meet other young people.

External organizations provide additional support to ITS programs. Funders include NB3F, Nike’s N7 Fund for Native American and Aboriginal Youth, and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Measuring Program Success

Assessing the success and impact of the program is important to ITS. Each year, staff gather feedback from coaches and ask participants what they like most about participating in the sports leagues and how ITS can help them reach their goals. Staff have also collected information on the amount of time spent being physically active and body mass index scores and other health data from youth. Culture is a big component of ITS’ programs, and coaches and mentors use observation and their knowledge of the programs to explain how efforts to infuse culture are affecting the youth. ITS has found that participation in the sports leagues increases year after year, which is a clear indication of the program’s success.

To strengthen evaluation efforts, ITS staff would like to capture the organization’s impact on health, social and emotional development, and academic performance. ITS would like to use these data to compare impact across seasons, leagues, and years. Staff plan to share this information with the tribes, so each team can use the data to strengthen its programs and meet the needs of its community members. ITS is developing a comprehensive evaluation and data collection plan with support from the California Rural Indian Health Board (CRIHB) and is exploring opportunities to partner with local universities to collect data and assess impact.

 

Here are some of the ways ITS has made a difference for tribes in Southern California:

  • Teaching youth about their culture and the culture of neighboring tribes—ITS provides an opportunity for youth to learn about their own culture and cultural practices and the traditions of nearby tribes. Staff feel this knowledge has a lasting impact on participants. One founder noted, “At one time there was a lot of drug addiction, a lot of these kids they weren’t getting along. So now what I see is togetherness . . . they’re helping each other . . . the language, the culture, everything. They come together . . . and share their music, their stories, their songs.”
  • Instilling positive qualities in Native American youth—ITS activities seek to instill in participants a range of values, including leadership, respect, self-improvement, and self-confidence. The former executive director noted ITS strives to teach children and youth the foundations for cultural behaviors and expectations, including “how to socially interact and be respectful of your elders, and how to say thank you appropriately if you ask something of someone.”
  • Encouraging a lifelong commitment to physical activity among youth—ITS teaches youth the importance of continuing to be physically active as they get older. The former executive director views ITS as “working upstream—getting and informing kids and providing resources to kids . . . so they are less likely to [face health challenges] as adults or elders.” She feels keeping youth active year-round may lead them to “grow into physically active adults and physically active grandparents that are modeling that physical activity should be one of the number-one priorities . . . at any stage of life.”
  • Motivating healthy eating habits—ITS has heard its wellness efforts are creating healthy lifestyle changes among participants. The executive director shared reports of youth making decisions to change their eating habits, read food labels, and exercise portion control. This is especially important for those young people who are approaching their teenage years—the time when they can make more choices about what they eat.
  • Improving academic performance and attendance—School staff, parents, and coaches feel ITS has improved the attitudes of students and their attendance at school. The executive director has received testimony from parents, who say, “Because of ITS, our children are getting better grades in school . . . before they didn’t want to go to school; now they’re up and ready to go to school and their report cards are A grades.”
  • Promoting family bonding and adult physical activity—Family members often sign up for ITS activities together, with parents and grandparents commonly volunteering to coach their child’s team. The result is multiple generations spending time together in a fun, positive, and active way. One staff member said ITS is “trying to really encourage the idea that our entire lives are meant to be physically active. And it’s really great to see that a lot of our parents now are more engaged physically with their kids.”
  • Keeping youth busy, active, and happy—ITS gives children and youth quality, structured activities for after school and on the weekends. One youth said, “I’m thankful for them . . . letting us do active things, because I think without ITS, it would kind of be . . . boring, different. Because ITS, it gets us busy and instead of doing something like staying home playing a game, we can come out here and play.” He said the program makes him feel happy because he’s playing a lot of sports and gets to see his friends. Another participant said he started with ITS because his parents wanted him to be active, but he keeps coming back because it’s fun, it’s competitive, he gets to play with other tribes, and he wants to stay active. The former executive director said she felt a similar sentiment watching the number of participants increase season after season: “[The] bottom line is . . . are the kids having a good time when they’re playing? And that, we see, and we feel every day.”
  • Positively affecting the broader community—The board of directors’ vice president said, “ITS has had significant impact on our entire tribal community. This has been attained through the positive outcomes with sports participation and other opportunities ITS has to offer. In addition to this, I feel ITS has united the entire region and facilitated . . . the reconnection of our reservations and other tribal communities.”v

Native-specific active lifestyle stories were created to share what’s working in Indian Country.

During the spring and summer of 2017, NB3F worked with James Bell Associates to conduct in-depth interviews with three of NB3F’s community partners (grantees): Inter Tribal Sports (CA), the STAR School (AZ), and the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (NM).

We are honored to share the stories of three community partners that utilize the strengths of their communities to increase youth participation in physical activities. The active lifestyle stories describe (1) the evolution of the programs or initiatives, (2) the resources each program needed, and (3) the impact the programs had on their children, youth, and community. For more information about the featured community partners or their programs, please contact Michelle Gutierrez at michelle@nb3f.org.

The third story in the series focuses on the STAR School, a public charter school serving primarily Native American students living near Flagstaff and Leupp, AZ. The STAR school opened in 2001 and currently serves a maximum of 140 students from preschool through eighth grade. STAR School is known for being the first all off-grid, solar- and wind-powered charter school in the country, and it prides itself in providing place-based, culturally responsive education.

A Children-Inspired Program

As part of its focus on healthy living, the STAR School has long participated in the Navajo-Hopi Athletic Junior High League that brings together schools in northern Arizona. When the league decided to start a pee wee division for children as young as kindergarten, the preschoolers at the STAR School took notice and expressed their interest in running. The STAR School saw an opportunity to instill a love of physical activity at the earliest age and launched the Pee Wee Running Club for preschoolers (children aged 3– 5).

The STAR School Pee Wee Running Club brings together preschoolers’ natural desire to be active with their interest in sports that are normally reserved for older kids, to teach them healthy living skills and traditional Native American practices. The club meets two to three times during the school week for about 90 minutes after classes let out. The group meets throughout the school year, except for during the winter months, when it gets too cold to run outside. Participants start with stretching, go for a 2- to 4-mile run/walk around the school, and end with a cool down and core and leg workout. The coach creates several routes around the school, of varying distances, and each meeting she picks the distance that the group will strive for. The children often run/walk in pairs or groups of four based on their speed, but the coach always tries to have them finish together, telling the runners, “Nobody came in first, nobody came in last; we all came in together.”

Culture of Running for Native Americans

Running is culturally significant to tribes in northern Arizona, and that importance is integrated into the running club in a few ways. The club has had parents come to talk with the children about the cultural significance of running to the Hopi and Navajo tribes. For the Hopi, tribal members historically ran for practical (e.g., hunting, transportation) and ceremonial reasons. Hopi people felt running “banished unhappiness, strengthened the body, and rejuvenated one’s energy.”12 The Navajo traditionally view a morning run to the east as a way to wake up the body, greet the morning sun, and get all the body’s energies ready for the day. The coaches also teach the children that running is inherent in their bodies because they are Native—that their bodies are capable of running and they are expected to run as a part of their culture.

Coaches also encourage the children to run so they are prepared for the Navajo Puberty Ceremony, a ceremony dedicated to celebrating the maturity of girls. Each morning during this four-day ceremony, the young woman who has gone through puberty runs to the east as the sun is rising, and then runs back. This practice ensures the woman will continue to be strong and active throughout adulthood. Often a group of children and sometimes adults run after the young woman, yelling encouragement to make sure she keeps running. Young women who go through the ceremony are called Kinaalda, meaning the embodiment of Changing Woman, a Navajo deity. While the ceremony is for young women, young men are also involved. As the coach explains to the boys, “When you’re chasing Kinaalda, you can’t pass her because, you know, you have to let her get her stride, and you have to learn how to breathe to keep up with this person.”

Teaching the cultural significance of running to the children aligns with the way that culture is infused into all aspects of the STAR School’s programming and curriculum. In addition to the Pee Wee Running Club, the STAR School encourages healthy living by providing and teaching about healthy food and beverages. In another program, the school has the students prepare traditional Navajo meals once a month and the staff provide food demonstrations to the families, with the goal of encouraging healthy eating. They also encourage students to eat fry bread in moderation, explaining that although fry bread was given to Navajos during the Long Walk[1] as a means of survival, it isn’t good for their bodies. The school promotes healthy beverages and cultural traditions by not providing soda on campus. When explaining to students why they don’t have soda at the school, the coordinator relates, “A long time ago, Navajos didn’t have access to soda . . . they drank water . . . they made Kool-Aid out of sumac berries . . . they just added honey to the sumac, and they drank that.”

Sustaining the Pee Wee Running Club

The running club relies heavily on existing resources at the school. The club is staffed by one adult and only needs land to run on, snacks, and water; however, finding a volunteer to coach the club can be challenging due to existing obligations for teachers and parents. The school is now searching to fill this position and is reaching out to former STAR students as possible coaches. During running club, the students are encouraged to stay hydrated and are fortunate to have access to well water from the Coconino Aquifer, which lies about 1,400 feet below the school. The water is treated with UV light when it is pulled from the ground, and the students love the taste of it. The club is also fortunate to exist in a close-knit community where the coaches often know the parents of children in the running club and can use those relationships to encourage and sustain participation. Also, one community member has run several marathons and often volunteers at and sponsors youth running events.

In addition to these community assets, the club receives support from partner agencies. The Indian Health Service unit in Winslow, AZ, often comes to the school to assist with fitness testing and health fairs, and provides incentives for participation, such as water bottles and pedometers. Another partner is the Navajo Coordinated Approach to School Health, which provides diabetes prevention education and activities at the school, such as promoting engaging in 150 minutes of physical activity per week. These health activities and resources, coupled with the Pee Wee Running Club, create a culture of health and wellness for children at the STAR School.

Capturing the Club’s Impact

The school has measured the success of the Pee Wee Running Club through observations and surveys. In the past, surveys have asked children about their satisfaction with the club and their eating and activity habits at home. They have found the children like the running club because it’s fun, it’s an opportunity to socialize with friends, and it’s competitive. The club receives a lot of positive feedback from children, parents, and grandparents. A former coach said she can see the results of the club when the children start losing weight or running longer and faster. She also measures the success of the program by how many “repeaters” come back each year. In the future, the school would like to supply runners with digital fitness trackers to allow them to see exactly how many miles they’ve run throughout the week or how many calories they’ve burned while running. These devices may also encourage the children to be more active at home.

Here are some ways the Pee Wee Running Club has made a difference for students at the STAR School:

  • Increasing physical activity outside of the club—The school staff have noticed that the children who participate in the running club often run and race around the playground on their own time. One staff member said, “I see them racing . . . around the playground, making their own courses. And they’re like, ‘I’m checking my breathing.’ We teach [them] how to check their pulse rates, and I still see them doing this on the playground, even off-season when we don’t have anything going on.”
  • Increasing activity among family members—Presenting running as a traditional and healthy activity motivates children to be active when they’re at home and to encourage their family members to be active with them. A former coach said she would tell the children, “Okay, it’s the weekend. Make sure you guys, at least, put a mile in with your grandma, grandpa. Try to get something, even a quarter of a mile.” Then the next week she would ask them about their activity at home, and they would tell her which family member they ran with. One girl even said she ran 8 miles with her aunt. Another staff member said a parent told her, “My daughter is encouraging me to . . . run with her. As a result, our entire family has decided to start doing these . . . 5K runs, starting out small.” And now the families are participating in longer races like marathons.
  • Improving the children’s health and confidence—A former coach feels the running club helps children lose weight. She recalled, “Once I had this little boy, he was so excited . . . because he had lost so much weight that he said, ‘My mom can pick me up now.’ And even . . . his grandma was telling me that his mom was so happy. He was so happy that he got smaller clothes instead of the big-boy clothes.” In addition, participants said the running club makes them feel “good” and teaches them to “try [their] personal best.”
  • Creating better students—When asked if she had any advice for other schools, a staff member replied, “Any kind of physical activity that is implemented by a school is going to have a positive effect on the students’ overall health . . . When they’re healthy, they pay more attention in class. When they’re healthy, they absorb more of the information that we’re giving them . . . those are the kinds of benefits that I think we do see [from] this.”

 

[1] In 1864, the U.S. Army forcibly removed Navajos and Mescalero Apaches from their homeland and made them march to Fort Sumner, about 300 miles away.

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! projecta 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.

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.