Cheyenne River Youth Project
Courtesy CRYP
Cheyenne River Youth Project

2016 Hot List: Get Healthy!

Lynn Armitage

According to the American Heart Association, the average life expectancy for Natives is five years less than the general population in the U.S., due in large part to obesity. More than 80 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults ages 20 to 74 are overweight, and more than 50 percent of children are obese.

The good news is that many concerned organizations across the country are making great strides to reverse these alarming health trends in Native communities.

Healthcare To Call Our Own

Pequot Health Care, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, offers comprehensive health care services, including medical, dental and vision benefits—as well as a state-of-the-art mail-service pharmacy—for all Native Americans throughout the nation. Quality, affordable health care options owned by Natives, for the benefit of all Natives.

Sowing Seeds of Good Health

Optimum health starts with access to healthy food. Unfortunately, extreme poverty in many Native communities limits nutritious options. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) has launched a nationwide campaign, “Seeds of Native Health,” to raise awareness about poor nutrition in Indian country. They have also co-sponsored two well-attended symposiums with the American Heart Association called “Fertile Ground,” bringing together tribal leaders, funders, government agencies and nutrition experts to discuss a positive path forward for improving Native nutrition.

 (Left to right) First Nations Development Institute President Michael Roberts; SMSC Secretary/Treasurer Lori Watso; Dean Brian Buhr, University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences; SMSC Vice-Chairman Keith Anderson; Notah Begay III Foundation founder Notah Begay; and Notah Begay III Foundation Executive Director Justin Huenemann. (Courtesy FNDI)

Get a Move On!

One day, one hour of exercise. That’s all the Notah Begay III Foundation is asking Native youth to do on November 13, 2016, in the NB3FIT Challenge. The foundation hopes to inspire and engage 10,000 young Native Americans to get physical in one way or another: shoot hoops, run, jump, skateboard, walk, bike, climb, play ball—whatever it takes to get the body moving for one hour. NB3FIT is part of the foundation’s ongoing national initiative to support health and fitness among Native youth.

The Little Garden That Could

In 1999, the Cheyenne River Youth Project planted a small organic garden and hoped for the best. Today, it has blossomed into a two-acre micro-farm operation that grows healthy snacks for many children, ages 4 to 12, at the Cheyenne tribal youth centers. The garden also serves as an outdoor classroom for Native kids, where they learn how to grow fruits and vegetables to help their communities achieve food sovereignty and security.

Juicy Idea

Hailey Nutt, a Chickasaw, is fighting Native health problems with her bare hands. The young entrepreneur and raw-food chef started Tribal, a wholesale and distribution juice business based in Dallas. Every bottle of juice holds three to five pounds of organic vegetables and/or fruits cold-pressed by hand. It’s pure juice, nothing added—no sugar, water, chemicals or coloring. The bottles are labeled by hand, too, with juicy tribal names like “Chief,” “Medicine Man” and “Rain Dance.” Cheers to you, Hailey!

Healthy Causes

For more than 25 years, Kaufman & Associates, Inc. (KAI) has worked tirelessly on many tribal issues, including health care. Recently, founder Jo Ann Kauffman of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe launched a nationwide communications campaign about Native health care options. While many Natives rely on the federally run Indian Health Service, it doesn’t offer a number of services. Kauffman’s campaign encourages American Indians and Alaska Natives to seek comprehensive health coverage by signing up for Medicare or Medicaid and applying for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

On another health front, KAI also helped debut Eagle Books, a children’s book series written by Georgia Perez of New Mexico that encourages kids to eat healthy and stay active with the help of fictional characters like Mr. Eagle and Miss Rabbit. This important message is making its way around the world, with the distribution of more than 2 million Eagle Books to date.

Kauffman & Associates, Inc. founder and President Jo Ann Kauffman (Courtesy KAI)

Always Eat Your Veggies

First Nations Development Institute has always supported initiatives that help Natives get better access to the abundance and quality of healthy food. In 2012, it awarded $905,000 through the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative to 29 Native organizations focused on improving the health and nutrition of Native children and families through sustainable food systems, such as community gardens, food banks, food pantries and other agricultural-related projects.

She’s Got Moves

Michelle Obama is passionate about ending childhood obesity. With the support of President Obama’s first-ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity, the First Lady launched “Let’s Move!”—a comprehensive health initiative focused on tackling this epidemic that is threatening our children’s future and well-being. This strategic wellness campaign encourages healthier eating at home and at school. It educates parents and caregivers to make and support healthy choices; works with schools to offer healthier options; ensures access to healthy, affordable food for all families; and motivates children to get more exercise.

First Lady Michelle Obama dances with students at the event highlighting Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative during her tour celebrating the second anniversary of Let’s Move!, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, Feb. 9, 2012. (

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