American Indian, Alaska Native and Canadian First Nation members discuss key health issues at national Native Women & Men’s Wellness Conference
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (A PATHSTAR Report) – Members of the 2014 PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Week Program joined 330 health advocates from 55 American Indian, Alaska Native and Canadian First Nation communities at the 14th annual Native Women and Men’s Wellness Conference (March 22-25) in San Diego, CA.
The American Indian Institute (Aii), a University of Oklahoma Outreach program, hosts the event regarded as the most comprehensive public health conference in Indian Country. The Aii has served tribal communities throughout Indian Country for more than 60 years.
Diabetes continues to devastate tribal communities throughout North America and was the most discussed topic at the conference, PATHSTAR participants said. According to the Indian Health Service (www.ihs.gov) American Indian and Alaska Native adults are 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes compared with non-Hispanic whites; Native youth aged 10-19 years are 9 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Colville Confederated Tribes, WA, members — Shelli Martinez, Joey Cohen, Theresa Bessette, her son Travis Bessette and Elizabeth Best — attended the conference with PATHSTAR Director Nancy Iverson, M.D.
Keynote speakers shared the importance of reclaiming health and strengthening Native communities. Dr. Don Warne’s (Oglala Lakota) vision for public health in Indian Country stressed the need for more Native public health professionals and was widely acclaimed by the conference participants.
His address was “so inspiring that I’ve thought about returning to school to pursue a Master of Public Health Degree,” said Elizabeth Best, a child mental health specialist. “It’s sad to know that our communities are suffering medically that badly. Prevention is very much the key to many of our problems.”
Conference tracks included behavioral health, health promotion and disease prevention and wellness. The PATHSTAR team gave workshops entitled “PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Program: Swimming for Life, One Stroke at a Time.”
The program is a component of San Francisco-based PATHSTAR’s year-round activities to inspire healthy nutrition and active lifestyle practices in tribal communities. The 8-day program focuses on hands-on nutrition education, lifestyle coaching, and fitness activities.
The week ends with the iconic swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco in the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay. The 2015 program will be held October 11-19. Application packets can be downloaded at http://www.pathstar.org.
Martinez, a Colville Tribes physical activities/lifestyle specialist and Theresa Bessette, a tribal health natural helper, noted that workshop attendees particularly wanted to know the distance of the swim (1.5 miles), the temperature of the water (approximately mid to high 50-degrees Fahrenheit), and tips for healthy eating on a budget. Elizabeth Best remarked, “I like how we shared our strengths and weakness.”
The transformative experience of the swim program has empowered PATHSTAR alumni to establish public and school vegetable gardens, coach high school sporting events and work on anti-obesity initiatives, fitness and diabetes prevention programs throughout the United States.
The PATHSTAR members noted that information on exercise, diet, stress management and mental health as a key to disease prevention were among the many “take-away” benefits from the conference. “There are many Native people who have diabetes and are willing to change their lives to live longer and have better self esteem about themselves,” said Theresa Bessette.
Elizabeth Best noted that the conference was a great inspiration to setting new personal goals. “…Self-care is one thing that I encourage my co-workers and clients to practice,” she said. “We did a great exercise in a session that actually had you rate different areas in your life. I would like to do share with others when I return home.”
Shelli Martinez is using wellness and activity tools offered during the conference to coordinate the second annual “Take Charge of Your Health” triathlon (August 1, 2015) in Omak, WA. Registration opens in April to allow training time for the event. Martinez can be contacted by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for event information.
PATHSTAR Director Nancy Iverson is a pediatrician who worked at the Indian Health Service Hospital on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1990s.“The American Indian Institute team does wonderful work both with conference organization and content,” she said. “It’s remarkable to be a part of a learning time that gathers people from across the U.S. and Canada.
“We appreciate the interchange, the learning for us as we hear about programs and resources throughout Indian Country and the ongoing opportunity for continuing conversations about meeting challenges, recognizing possibilities and celebrating successes,” she said.
PATHSTAR is a nonprofit committed to inspiring and revitalizing sustainable health and well-being practices within Native American communities by providing support and advocacy in overcoming the geographic, economic, and political obstacles that impact food availability, eating habits and lifestyle choices.