By: Michelle Simon
“There is a wave of wellness washing across Indian Country, and it has come to the shores of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation,” said Marcus Red Thunder (Northern Cheyenne), presenter and event emcee of the 2019 Kansas Tribal Health Summit.
Members from the four tribes in Kansas along with tribal health partners came together at the annual Kansas Tribal Health Summit to receive information geared toward Native American health and wellness issues. This year’s event focused on movement, tribal food and nutrition, and men’s mental health.
The three-day event kicked off on August 18, 2019, with an outdoor Sunday Funday held at Prairie Peoples’ Park on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Reservation. Event attendees checked in at Shelter House #1 and received some cool event swag which included a bright blue t-shirt and choice of water bottle.
Well For Culture co-founders Thosh Collins (WaZhaZhi, Haudenosaunee, and O’otham) and Chelsey Luger (Anishinaabe and Lakota) had local youth and their family members motivated and moving in the arena. Collins and Luger ran through a series of physical movements and games with attendees, reminding participants that movement is medicine and breathing is sacred. Collins and Luger shared their take on the classic childhood game Rock, Paper, Scissors, changing it to Mosquito, Fish, Bear. Partners stood back to back and then jumped to face each other while acting out either a Mosquito, Fish or Bear. Collins and Luger encouraged participants to play the game using their native languages.
Up the hill from the arena, in the cook shack, the Native Chef Jason Champagne held a cooking demonstration. Champagne taught community members how to prepare and cook fresh vegetables and chicken which were later served to all in attendance. The protein portion of the meal was prepared by Diabetes Prevention Program staff Matthew Waits, who grilled bison burgers and the chicken.
On Monday, August 19, the formal conference began at Prairie Band Casino & Resort, with keynote speaker Thosh Collins’ presentation on 7 Circles of Wellness. Collins relayed, “Our tradition of health is longer and stronger than our tradition of health disparities.” The keynote was followed by an exercise break with Julia Soap, MPH, (Prairie Band Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Cherokee). Attendees then moved to breakout sessions, which included: Movement as Medicine, presented by Luger and Collins, Welcoming Home Warriors, presented by Jeremy Fields, (Pawnee, Crow, Chickasaw) of Thrive Unltd, and Healthy Relationships with Red Thunder.
Event attendees were joined by Congresswoman Sharice Davids, representative of the 3rd District in Kansas, at lunchtime. Davids (Ho-Chunk) relayed her recent experiences as one of the first Native American congresswomen, and shared areas of policy she is raising awareness for in the House of Representatives, including Native Veteran issues, Indian Health Service funding, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Davids communicated she is looking to proactively address health care costs, with a hard look at prescription drug costs, which for so many people across the country creates a debilitating financial burden. Davids also relayed that she has co-sponsored the Native American Suicide Prevention Act, which would require states who receive funding for suicide initiatives to include and coordinate with tribes. Often times states receive funding, but the tribes are not included, this bill would ensure tribal governments, groups and health centers be included. Davids concluded her talk by saying, “Native people can be leaders in any space, across the country,” and she is living proof as she breaks down the barriers between Indian Country and Congress.
The afternoon plenary was provided by Fields, “How a Community Can Support Men’s Mental health to Build A Stronger Community,” and followed by Heart Health Screenings, and a repeat of Welcoming Home Warriors by Fields and Healthy Relationships by Red Thunder.
The final day of the event provided two interactive options for attendees. The first option was to visit Prairie People’s Park and participate in a nature walk led by Theodore Wahquahboshkuk (Prairie Band Potawatomi) followed by a presentation on the PBP Nation’s Bison given by Ella Garcia (Prairie Band Potawatomi), after which attendees were able to see the bison up close.
The second interactive option was for attendees to try out the PBPN Diabetes Prevention Program smoothie bikes and do chair yoga. DPP staff, Matt Waits set up two bikes at PBCR, to allow participants to create a smoothie by powering the blender through pedaling the bicycle. Stacy Ziegler, Rebound Physical Therapy’s Director of Health Promotions, lead the group in chair yoga exercises.
All participants met back up at the casino to hear Devon Mihesuah’s presentation, “Challenges to Achieving Indigenous Food Sovereignty.” Mihesuah (Choctaw) oversees the American Indian Health and Diet Project at KU and is an author of numerous books, including her most recent publication “Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments and Regaining Health.” Afternoon breakout sessions included, Ancestral Eating with Collins and Luger, How to Start a Fall Garden with Tandy Rundus, SNAP-Ed NE Region Specialist and The Importance of Backyard Gardens with Mihesuah.
The annual Kansas Tribal Health Summit once again imparted a wealth of health-related knowledge to Kansas tribal members and tribal health partners. Through the event, participants were introduced to a few of the many Indigenous peoples in contemporary society promoting healing and health using movement, breath, foods, and relationships within families, communities and to the land to regain and restore our collective traditional health practices.
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