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Family Olympics encourages fun, family fitness.

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By Theresa Keshick -- Today correspondent

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - More than 700 participants from various tribes and organizations gathered July 20 for the 20th Annual Michigan Indian Family Olympics at the Bennett Track on the Central Michigan University campus. Participants came to compete in various track and field events that encouraged both family fun and fitness within American Indian families.

This year's team trophy for the most medals won went to the Huron Potawatomie Tribe, with a total of 323 points. They took over the reign held by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which held the title for the past three years. This year, Little Traverse Bay Bands placed second, with a total of 302 points. Third place went to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, with a total of 225 points.

Huron Potawatomie Chairman Laura Spurr said they had been recruiting members and training all year long. Last year's comments from some of their team members echoed in the ears of some LTBB members. ''They said they were gonna take it away from us and win it the following year,'' said Susan Swadling, one of the participants from LTBB, ''and they did!''

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The games started back in 1987. Sue Siller, then health educator for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, wanted to promote health and wellness through a family fun day of physical activity with mainly track and field events along with swimming events for Saginaw Chippewa tribal members and their families. This expanded to include the other tribes and tribal organizations throughout the state of Michigan. This year had the most participants ever, with a total of 713 participants, up 19 percent from the previous year.

Little Traverse has been attending the games for 10 years. Arlene Naganashe, then health director for the tribe, first invited LTBB tribal members and families to attend. A survey was conducted that indicated members wanting to do healthy activities in a family setting. She had talked to some people out West, then wrote a grant called ''Grandmother's Wisdom.'' The theory behind this was that ''our circle was going to be mended through remembering - by getting stories to the children. All generations are represented there [at the Family Olympics], from the elders to babies ...

''One of our strengths [as Indian people] is community strength. We help one another. Our community togetherness supported that cultural identity of families, which extends beyond our immediate family. ''

She also mentioned that there are a lot of Native people that combat diabetes; this was a way to take that disease on. ''It also helps fight child obesity, which is another problem among Native people. And it's a good way to spend time with family and friends, make new friends and meet up with old ones that you haven't seen in a while. Plus, a lot of Native children won't participate in athletic events at school because they feel they may not be good at it, or they'll be made fun of. Here, there is a lot of team spirit. Even the other teams root for you as you're rounding that last corner of the track; they don't want you to give up.

''You may not have won the event, but you have your own personal victory.''