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Here's to a happy, healthy New Year

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For most of us, ringing in a New Year means making resolutions to become better individuals in one small way or another. Every Day One, we become a nation of quitters. We resolve to quit smoking, stop swearing, cut out the sugar and try again to become frybread-free. These are hard habits to break. Our vices become like dear friends to us, lending comfort in difficult times and stressful situations. Soon, around Day Seven, we forget our lofty goals and settle back into the familiar. This year can be different, and we issue a challenge to individuals, families and nations in Indian country: resolve to get your body and spirit in better shape, and let us know how you are accomplishing it. Sharing a vision for a healthy Indian community, whether tribal or national, is the greatest of aspirations and is one of the most important common goals we will ever encourage.

Decades ago, even the simplest acts were considered revolutionary: giving our children Indian names, nursing them at the breast and celebrating the milestone of their first Native words. The collective effort to help raise strong and healthy children was an investment in our struggle to preserve Indian sovereignty. Many of our best leaders today were raised in this fashion and know the significance of a good early start that includes homegrown food and teachings. It is vitally important to reaffirm the values that help shape strong families and to renew the simple practices that have been overlooked or forgotten in our rapidly changing world.

Where does the creation of a strong and healthy people begin? Many Indian people, especially those keen to the cycles of nature, believe it begins in a mother's body. They believe, and abundant research confirms, that the education and care of expectant parents can have a significant effect on a child. From prenatal development to the diet of both mother and child, we must continue to battle the health disparities that exist for Native people. There are many factors beyond our control, but consciousness, prayer and a healthy diet are always within reach.

Eating right and moving - ''Native-style,'' as a popular fitness campaign encourages - can curb the devastating effects of diabetes and obesity on our families and communities. The wisdom and leadership of our elders is being lost to early death and disease-related depression. The typical American diet, laden with sugar and addictive preservatives, is a major contributor to this great loss. Getting healthy in Indian country has recently become a movement of cultural pride, with individuals sharing traditional foods and recipes and nations participating in physical endeavors to spread messages of wellness. Educating one's self and others about the physiological and emotional benefits of eating well and exercising can help keep this momentum going.

Native people are finding creative ways to raise awareness in their communities about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, junk food and sedentary lifestyles. We consider them role models, and will continue to profile their efforts in Indian Country Today. This year, for this particular challenge (which has as much to do with protecting Indian sovereignty as any other effort) we'd like to hear from our readers what kinds of community projects are helping them lead healthier lives. With today's tribal resources and the increasing sophistication of Native traditional practices, we're optimistic that many good stories will come from many great people this year. For the strength of our families, communities and future generations, let's get healthy.