Fitness Takes Hold in Aboriginal Country With Just Move It—Canada


Aboriginals in Canada have joined their American Indian and Alaska Native cousins and are learning to shake their booty, traditionally speaking.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) joined with well known fitness advocates on March 19 to launch Just Move It—Canada, an online fitness initiative that capitalizes on indigenous strengths to get people into physical activity.

“Whether it’s -50 degrees in our beautiful winter or +20 in summer I encourage Inuit to go outside, enjoy nature, and ‘Just Move it’ by engaging in traditional Inuit activities, recreational sports leagues, or going to the community centre,” said National Inuit Leader Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the Inuit-advocacy organization, in a statement announcing the move. “There are plenty of ways to stay fit based on our traditional and modern activities. Let’s all get fit and stay fit.”

AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo noted that exercise is right up there with education when it comes to strengthening communities.

“Healthy communities are thriving communities, and Just Move It will help showcase existing and new community-based initiatives toward achieving health and wellness among our peoples,” Atleo said in the groups’ joint statement announcing the initiative on March 19. “Just Move It is much more than an online tool. It is part of a national movement and growing momentum among Indigenous Peoples to work together to maintain healthy, active lifestyles as a key component to our progress and success.”

The U.S.–based Healthy Native Communities Partnership Inc. originated the idea and is partnering with the two aboriginal groups as well as working in tandem with Health Canada.

The movement, known as JMI, was created in the United States in 1993 by the HNCP and has grown throughout Indian Country. An AFN background information noted that JMI "builds on the indigenous values of sharing and storytelling, and plays an important role in promoting cultural practices and traditional knowledge around wellness and physical activity. JMI partners report having an increased awareness of physical activity promotion and program opportunities leading to direct impacts on healthy behaviours in communities."

“We are really excited to see Just Move It expand to include First Nations and Inuit communities from Canada,” said HNCP Executive Director David Reede in the statement. “Indigenous communities are stronger when we share our wisdom and learnings about what is working for wellness.”

At a workshop in Ottawa, participants discussed ways to use digital storytelling and other technology to enhance and encourage fitness. They also developed strategies to encourage people to become active. Health Canada and the National Aboriginal Diabetes Association helped sponsor the workshop, which launched the partnership between the AFN, ITK and Just Move It founding organization HNCP.

It comes not a moment too soon. Recent studies have documented the skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes among aboriginals in Canada. Diabetes is increasing at a "horrendously high rate—two-and-a-half to five times that of the general population," said Stewart Harris, M.D., a professor of family medicine at the University of Western Ontario in London, in a recent study released by the Canadian Obesity Network. Harris found that as many as 40 percent of First Nations adults living on reserves have type 2 diabetes, versus 7 percent in the general population, and that aboriginals are diagnosed with diabetes 10 to 20 years younger than the general population, the Obesity Network said.

“We applaud this new interactive tool that improves awareness of physical activity and wellness, and motivates people to make healthy choices,” said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

The video below contains testimonials from newly converted exercise aficionados who relate the ways they wove tradition into their workout.