Kids gardening at the TURTLE summer camp organized by the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic (Courtesy OKCIC)

AAIP: Fight Non-Traditional Challenges With Family Preservation and Healthy Living

Tish Leizens
Mary Smith with Cecilia Fire Thunder, STRONG conference keynote speaker (Courtesy AAIP)

“Native families today face several non-traditional challenges such as single parent households, grandparents raising grandchildren, growing health disparities and increased number of suicides in Native communities,” said Mary Smith, the Association of American Indian Physician's (AAIP) Family Preservation program director.

What Indian country needs is a return to traditional ways, Smith said.

Traditional ways include "growing our own food to sustain and improve the health of our families,” she explains.

It's also about nurturing relationships. “Building and maintaining a strong family foundation can have an immense influence on the health of the youth—physical, emotional and spiritual."

Smith spoke at the AAIP's 7th Annual Family Wellness Conference in Midwest City, Oklahoma, September 13-14. The statewide event was themed: “Strengthening the Relationships of Native Generations" (STRONG).

The Family Preservation program, funded by a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, has singled out the lack of healthy relationship skills in Native communities as a factor that leads to domestic violence, teen pregnancy, single parenting and divorce.

The program works with regional coalitions throughout Oklahoma by developing partnerships with schools, tribes/nations, faith-based and community organizations, and concerned citizens. Training programs have been developed to target youth and adults.

For instance, the AAIP has awarded a $2,500 grant to the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic (OKCIC) to help support their urban gardening project for Native youth and families. The Wellness Garden program started in April.

Cynthia Caudillo, a registered and licensed dietitian at the OKCIC, said poor dietary habits are directly related to unhealthy foods available in the home. The lack of parental support for choosing healthy foods contributes to obesity problems.

“The OKCIC reports that nearly 2,000 (13.3 percent) of its patients were diagnosed with diabetes; 72 percent are overweight and obese,” she said, referencing 2010 statistics.

“The garden does so well. We want to add a couple of raised beds in early spring,” said Caudillo. Currently, tomatoes, peppers, basil, zucchini, squash, pumpkin and other vegetables grow in a patch of land on the west side of the clinic.

As part of the Wellness Garden program, the OKCIC also takes patients on educational farmers' market tours, teaching them how to select their fruits and vegetables.

Another OKCIC program benefiting the community is the Teaching Urban Roads to Lifestyle and Exercise (TURTLE) Camp. It encourages lifestyle changes—like eating better, exercising, not smoking cigarettes and practicing positive behaviors—to reduce obesity and prevent diabetes in American Indian children.

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