Bikes, ABCs and peaches

Today, I again visited the first grade classroom, where I have the most new names to learn. I was confused, and got a few of the names switched around. The first graders were also confused about my name.

“Are you really our teacher’s Father?” one asked!

They were reviewing the alphabet, and learning the letters by learning a chant and clapping pattern. While there are some things kids learn that we forget over the years, I was still pretty solid remembering my ABCs, and joined along to help them review. While most of our students have returned and breathed new life and energy into the campus, something was missing, and I couldn’t identify it until today. After school I saw the procession of the bicycles from their storage place in the picnic pavilion. The children parked them in their rightful places in front of the homes, and now the place is looking more like it should. It does my heart good to see the smiles of glee on youngster’s faces as they pedal around Wisdom Circle.

While on my way across campus, I came across a kickball game among the Afra Home (1st-3rd grade) girls. They got excited when I jumped in to take a turn. I kicked the ball over their heads, but ran slow enough for them to throw at me and get me out between second and third bases, before I went on my way toward another meeting. While I can’t always spend long blocks of time with the students, it’s those brief moments for a little fun and joy in life that create lasting memories and give meaning to my role here.

For our school lunches in the dining hall, as well as in meals served in the homes, we have been trying to emphasize more fruits and vegetables. Parts of South Dakota, especially Indian reservation communities, are often classified as a “food desert,” which is an area where choice and variety are limited and located more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. That point was brought home to me tonight in the Speyer Home (6th-8th grade boys). One of our new students was really enjoying the bowl of freshly frozen mixed fruit set before him.

“These orange things are pretty good – what are they again?” – the answer was peaches!

It was his first experience with peaches. If we’re going to help the next generation stave off diabetes and other health issues, we need to get them to try a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Without too much homework to rush off to yet, and sports practices still a week away, the guys sat around the table without rushing off, and talked about fun things they got to do over the summer.

Harsh reality of Native American health

St. Joseph’s Indian School’s Personal Living Skills (PLS) class is taking it up a notch!

The class has been exploring the relationship between diet and exercise.  PLS class promotes good health, emphasizing ways to reduce sugar, salt and fat in the diet.  Our Lakota (Sioux) students learn healthy snack options and how to make healthy choices when eating out.  They also learn why fitness is important and what they can to do maintain a healthy weight in order to live a healthy and productive life.

Health Facts

Chronic diseases, such as obesity and type II diabetes persist in Native Americans at rates that are significantly higher than those in other ethnic minority populations.  A primary cause of this epidemic outbreak can be linked to the shift of tribal traditions.   With a culture that once solely survived off of the crops they harvested, Native American’s diets are now filled with processed foods high in fat and sodium with limited intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  In addition, the average physical activity level is significantly lower than the recommended amount.  The poor quality of the current diet and lifestyle of Native Americans is endangering their quality of life.

Type II diabetes is one of the most serious health problems for Native Americans in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Indian Health Service, Native Americans are 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes compared with non-Hispanic whites.

95% of Native Americans with diabetes are diagnosed with type II diabetes.

Just as type II diabetes can be the result of  inadequate diet and insufficient physical activity, it can also be managed and potentially cured by diet and lifestyle modifications.

Another health condition that is seriously affecting the American Indian population is obesity. Native American obesity is a major risk factor for both type II diabetes and heart disease.

On average, 30% of all Native Americans are obese.

Both males and females are consistently more overweight and obese than the total U.S. population.  The primary contributors to obesity also include poor diet and insufficient exercise.

Native Americans face a surplus of unfavorable socioeconomic factors which contribute to the rise of obesity and type II diabetes.  Among the list are economic stresses, reduced access to affordable healthful foods, opportunities for safe and varied physical activity, overexposure to targeted advertising and marketing of calorie-dense foods.  Despite these inopportune circumstances it has become critical that Native Americans make significant alterations to their current diet and lifestyles in order to protect their past, present and future legacy.