Recently, the Northern Arizona Little League (consisting of 11- and 12-year-old players) held its regional all-star competition in Flagstaff. Reservation based teams were among the eight-team field representing northern Arizona.
I’m a Navajo who lives and works in Flagstaff, and my son Stephen was a member of the Flagstaff All-star team. I was particularly excited that they would play a reservation team. I always look forward to seeing some good old competition between reservation teams and off-reservation teams. I was proud of my son and his team just as I am sure each parent of the other team members were about their son’s.
By now you are probably saying to yourselves, “Hey, this guy is no Oree Foster or he doesn’t pass for a respectable sports writer – fire him!”
If this thought happened to cross your mind, you are right. What I do for a living is manage a Native American nonprofit called Native Americans for Community Action, based in Flagstaff. One important part of our business is to operate a primary health care clinic, something we have been doing very well for the past 12 years.
From the outset, one of the reasons for the establishment of our urban Indian health program, besides being a primary health care provider, was to inform and educate individuals and families about healthy practices. Given the declining state of health in the U.S. and, more importantly, of the Native American population, I feel compelled to write the Navajo-Hopi Observer readers this message.
As proud of the reservation team All-stars that I was, I could not help but notice that a high number of team members were very overweight. In addition, from the group that I will assume were traveling parents, I observed similar “weight distributions.”
Diabetes and high blood pressure, which are directly related to being overweight, are leading causes of death, and other serious complications that can affect our young people today or later in their lives. These are conditions that are taking a massive toll in our Indian population, reservation and urban alike.
Current science indicates that both these conditions are highly preventable with exercise and healthy eating habits. These young people and others like them in other reservation communities are not at fault. The culprits are you and I, the parents.
As responsible parents, we need to lead by example as best as we can. If possible, toss out those bad habits of too often making the wrong menu choices at the local fast food establishment or drinking water instead of soda.
Although these establishments are easy and convenient to access, and they do offer some healthy choices, the problem is most of us will make the wrong choice over the healthy one, and it is these wrong choices that can be a cause for future health problems.
A fast food entrepreneur would likely say that there are choices to be made and that he/she cannot be held accountable for any unhealthy food choices. This makes as much sense as the cigarette producers and liquor distillers and brewers, saying it is a matter of choice that our people want to develop lung cancer or succumb to alcoholism.
What we see on the market today often runs counterproductive to the joint and considerable efforts now being undertaken by urban, tribal and federal programs to put a “choke hold” on diabetes and other medical and social ills caused by substance abuse. As we can see a whole host of social and medical problems result from bad choices.
So what is important to you and how will your kids be affected by choices we make as parents? For those of us who now suffer from these serious maladies or those of us who have a loved one who is or has been affected, we know what is more important.
As parents of the next generation it is up to you to decide which is more important. Think of your child having to endure insulin shots, think of your child, as an adult, having to undergo dialysis treatments or lose a foot or leg.
As I stated earlier, our children are not at fault, we are. For the most part they follow our lead. And as we now know, a wrong direction at this time in their lives can lead to negative outcomes later and, unfortunately the cycle continues. Let’s be smart parents, take hold of who you are and what you want your child to become. Let’s give these kids a fighting chance.
Now for those of you who do know me and those who do not, I am by no means the ideal parent nor am I in top physical condition. Did I say I was perfect? In expressing my view, I do not mean to offend anyone. I only mean to relate a real life experience and put it into perspective of a growing health issue and, hopefully, the larger audience would benefit.
Oh, by the way the reservation All-Star team did prevail by beating my son’s team 7 to 5. I am a firm believer of giving credit where credit is due. Congratulations to them and best wishes for the many years they have ahead of them by living smart.
(Dana Russell is Chief Executive Officer for Flagstaff-based Native Americans for Community Action.)
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