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PALA comes to Indian Country!

Earlier this month, I had the great privilege of introducing the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) to over 40,000 students at Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools. With BIE Deputy Director Bart Stevens, I visited the National Indian Programs Training Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico to make this announcement through ELKNet – a satellite broadcast system that reaches all 183 BIE schools. Bart and I were joined by Sam McCracken from NikeN7 – Nike’s foundation to promote sports and physical activity among Native American and Aboriginal communities. Together, we challenged Native American students to lead active, healthy lifestyles by committing to 60 minutes of physical activity per day, 5 days a week, for 6 out of 8 weeks. PALA fosters lasting habits by encouraging participants to try a range of fun activities and sports. Native youth who sign on to the PALA challenge have an opportunity to get healthy while learning about their heritage and culture. Traditional activities like lacrosse, canoeing, archery, and hiking all count towards the goal of 60 minutes per day – and offer young people a chance to learn about their natural surroundings and rediscover ancient practices. Our goal is to have 25,000 people across Indian Country signed up for PALA by August 2012.

As a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, I am fully aware of the challenges tribal communities face with obesity and related health problems. Today, obesity rates in Indian Country are much higher than those of any other racial or ethnic group in America. Obesity is twice as common among four-year-old American Indian and Alaska Native children than among white or Asian children. Meanwhile, options for healthy, affordable food are often limited in tribal communities, as are recreational facilities and programs that help kids and families get active. As a professional football player for the Chicago Bears, I have seen the benefits of an active lifestyle on my physical health and my overall well-being. I would not be the man I am today without the lessons I gained through my participation in athletics. Getting involved in sports has taught me the importance of perseverance, dedication, and teamwork. By bringing the PALA program to Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, we are encouraging students to set goals and incentivizing them to work together to get healthy. I hope BIE schools will continue to incorporate physical activity into their curriculum in the classroom and beyond after class – and I hope that Native youth will encourage their parents to sign up for PALA, as well. I commend the First Lady for starting Let’s Move! and I am honored to be part of this important movement to end childhood obesity within a generation. Launching the PALA challenge in BIE schools is an important first step to help Native youth and families improve their fitness and health. Now, Let’s Move!