Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Let's Move in Indian Country" Launches

First Lady sends letter welcoming Native American and Alaska Natives to her childhood obesity campaign...
UPDATE, June 4: To celebrate the launch, American Indian group participates in "Three Sisters" planting and harvest with First Lady Michelle Obama
On Wednesday, while First Lady Michelle Obama was in London for the State Visit, the East Wing was busy unveiling Let's Move in Indian Country (LMIC). Robin Schepper, Executive Director of Let's Move!, traveled to Wisconsin to launch the new initiative at an event with the Menominee Nation in Kenesha, where kids from local tribes participated in a day of outdoor activities. The new initiative for Mrs. Obama's childhood obesity campaign is designed to impact American Indian and Alaska Native children with "culturally proficient" strategies to incorporate their heritage and traditional practices into healthy eating and fitness projects. (Above: Schepper, in the red blanket, is surrounded by tribal elders and Administration officials at the launch)

The First Lady sent a letter that was read at the event, explaining the new initiative.

"Through Let’s Move! in Indian Country we have an opportunity to engage Native communities, schools, tribes, the private sector, and non-profits to work together," Mrs. Obama wrote. "Tribes can sign up to become part of Let’s Move! in Indian Country, elders can mentor children about traditional foods and the importance of physical activity, and families can incorporate healthy habits like eating vegetables or participating in the President’s Active Lifestyle Award into their everyday life."

LMIC has four main goals: (1) Create a healthy start on life for children, (2) Create healthy learning communities, (3) Ensure families access to healthy, affordable, traditional foods, and (4) Increase opportunities for physical activity. See below for the Year 1 list of objectives.

The initiative is in partnership with USDA, Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Interior, which manages Indian Affairs. There's a new website, and celeb spokesmen have been booked for outreach; Twilight film series actor Chaske Spencer of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation was at the launch event. Interior Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs Associate Director Charlie Galbraith, USDA Deputy Administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Lisa Pino, and IHS Director for Improving Patient Care Program Lyle A. Ignace M.D., M.P.H.. also attended the launch.

The White House, in the announcement of the initiative, pointed out that Native Americans and Alaska Native populations have a statistically higher prevalence of obesity than other populations:

"In Indian Country, 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese before their 5th birthday, and a national survey of American Indian and Alaska Native high school students from urban and suburban areas found that 18.9 percent are obese."

The Tribal Nations and the Obama Administration...
LMIC continues the Administration's focus on Native Americans, which has included two White House Tribal Nations Conferences attended by President Obama, and top Administration officials, as well as plenty of attention from USDA and the Department of the Interior. There's a need for LMIC to address a whole range of issues, from food access and affordability, to basic medical services, because members of the tribal nations have been historically underserved by the federal government, in addition to suffering historic wrongs. Intervention is needed.

But the tribal nations have also become a potentially powerful political force, and Let's Move in Indian Country will do double duty as a creative approach to combating childhood obesity, while being a politically expedient project. American Indians make up large segments of the voting populations in states that could be potential battlegrounds in the 2012 presidential campaign: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Ohio, to name just some on the list. Non-white Hispanics and African Americans also have statistically higher rates of obesity than their white counterparts --and have also been historically underserved by the federal government--but to date there's no Let's Move! initiatives that are focused specifically on those populations.

And thanks to their status as citizens of sovereign nations, Native Americans can be big campaign donors. Among other things, tribes aren’t subject to the rules for aggregate financial “ceilings” for federal election campaigns. Tribal-run casinos are not classified as corporations under federal election rules, so while the Obama campaign has pledged it will take no corporate donations, casino cash is fair game.

To accomplish its goals, Let's Move Indian Country will:

1. Launch a new webpage and toolkit that includes step-by-step assistance, resources and information for schools, tribes and organizations on accessing federal programs and grants to combat childhood obesity/diabetes in Indian Country at

2. Certify all 14 federally run IHS obstetrics facilities as Baby Friendly Hospitals by 2012.

3. Issue the 25,000-person Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) Challenge this summer in Indian Country. Six thousand Native youth have already completed the challenge and received a certificate from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sport and Nutrition. To learn more about the Challenge, visit

4. Announce a partnership between the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services programs, the National Society for American Indian Elderly, Boys and Girls Clubs in Indian Country, and Southwest Youth Services to place 200 AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associations in Indian Country to support LMIC implementation, positive youth development, and healthy lifestyles in at least 15 states. In addition, CNCS, with support from the Nike N7 Fund, will place full-time, year-long AmeriCorps VISTA members with organizations promoting physical activity and sport on Native lands.

5. Engage celebrity spokespersons in getting out the message including, Sam Bradford (Cherokee Nation) and Tahnee Robinson (Northern Cheyenne)*, Chicago Bears player Levi Horn (Northern Cheyenne), Olympic runner Alvina Begay (Navajo Nation) and Twilight film actor Chaske Spencer (Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation).

5. Encourage 363 “Just Move It” tribal partners to mobilize locally PALA walks, runs and other on-reservation family-oriented activities across Indian Country.

“This is a special day for the Tribes and for USDA," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. "Let’s Move in Indian Country will help promote healthy eating and physical activity among Native Americans and is an important part of the effort to reduce teen and childhood obesity."

*Photo from The Bureau of Indian Affairs. More photos from the event ARE HERE on their Flickr page.