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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 19, 2002 - Issue 72


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Tribal School Students Learn to Combat Diabetes with Daily Exercise

by Terry Anderson Green Bay Press Gazette
Reindeer exercisingNEOPIT, ID - A typical third-grader, Trevor Thunder goes over or through every obstacle he encounters on his morning mountain bike ride on the trail behind the Menominee Tribal School in Neopit.

Why bother going around boulders when bumps make you smile?

When first-graders Emily Sero and Autumn McPherson go on their daily afternoon walk, they often end up chasing some annoying boys.

And why not?

To children, exercise is fun and games — as it should be.

But to school and health officials, this daily regimen of healthful exercise, eating and education is deadly serious.

"We're literally trying to save lives here with what we're doing," says physical education and health teacher Mike Clark.

"We're trying to decrease the risk of diabetes by promoting a healthy lifestyle."

The rate of diabetes among the Menominee is three times the national rate. Among adults older than 50 years, the diabetes rate is nearly 50 percent.

Medical evidence suggests that American Indians are genetically predisposed to diabetes.

With an unhealthful diet, the risk for developing the illness is greater, says Faye Dodge, a community health nurse and diabetes educator at Menominee Tribal Clinic.

The clinic and the K-8 school operated by the Menominee Tribe and funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs have entered into a partnership to do something about the problem.

Using money from an Indian Health Services diabetes-program grant, they have purchased exercise equipment such as mountain bikes, canoes, snowshoes and cross-country skis. The equipment is getting a lot of use, officials say.

2,000 miles and counting

Also, students, faculty and staff are taking daily 15-minute power walks around the school playground.

They are trying to "walk around the world," Clark says.

So far they have traveled nearly 2,000 miles and find themselves marching towards the Hawaiian Islands. Then it will be on to Japan.

"We've become a society of TV watchers and junk-food eaters," says second-grade teacher Laurie Krause. "You have to show the kids that you enjoy it, too."

Fitness is just one part of the wellness plan. Nutrition and education play roles, too.

The school has added salad bars to the daily lunch menu, and soda machines have been removed. All students take regular health education classes.

'Lifetime activities'

"We're trying to encourage lifetime activities," said dean of students Jerry Allard, who leads youngsters on fishing excursions. "This whole idea of wellness isn't just a fad. I think that it's a sad thing that clinics aren't more involved with schools."

A partnership between schools and clinics isn't just a good idea for an Indian school, Allard says.

The national epidemic of obesity and related illnesses should make everyone pause to think about what is being done to safeguard coming generations.

"It's a lot easier to buy a pair of tennis shoes or a bike than pay for dialysis," adds Mark Caskey, a registered nurse and wellness director at the tribe's clinic.

"I would rather poke and prod a youngster today than tell him at 13 that he has diabetes."

Neopit, WI MAP
Maps by Travel

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