On May 1, about 50 Southern Ute Indian students from Montessori Academy hiked steep incline trails to the ancestral Puebloan ruins on the recently designated Chimney Rock National Monument in southwestern Colorado. Joining them were Butch Blazer, U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment; Jodi Gillette, White House senior policy adviser for Native American affairs; and a handful of youth from the Pueblos who work with the Southwest Conservation Corps.
The excursion to the historic site marked the celebratation of the second anniversary of Let’s Move! in Indian Country, a national movement spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama to foster healthy eating habits and active lifestyles in Native youth. Her goal: to end the obesity epidemic “within a generation.” The debut of Let's Move! in Indian Country at the Menominee Indian Reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin on May 25, 2011 was attended by representatives from the National Congress of American Indians and the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affiars. On June 3, 2011, Mrs. Obama joined Native children in planting a traditional Indian garden at a ceremony on the White House South Lawn. (Read: First Lady Remembers Native Youth)
The Chimney Rock event honored Native culture while promoting exercise. Chimney Rock will open to the public mid-May in its first full season as a national monument after President Obama applied the 1906 Antiquities Act to give it the designation last September. (Read: President Obama Names New National Monument in Colorado, Affirming Tribal Descendants' Cultures)
In Gillette's White House blog posted yesterday, she shares her conversations with Aaron Lowden, an Acoma Pueblo youth and program coordinator for the Southwest Conservation Corps' Ancestral Lands regional office in Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, about "the strength and resiliency of the ancient people who built and lived in that space, and how their journey is connected to his own."
Aaron Lowden welcomes hikers and youth to Chimney Rock (by Harry Burell, Southwest Conservation Corps)
Observing the challenging living conditions of the original occupants of Chimney Rock, Lowden explained to his peers how being physically active was inherent to their ancestors' lifestyles.
"We learned how every single bit of rock and mortar had to be transported up to the top of this steep peak," Lowden said. "If you were to talk with one of the ancestral inhabitants today and ask them about environmental stewardship, exercising, and eating right it’s reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t know what you were talking about, it’s just how they lived."
His words of encouragement to his fellow students echo the mission of Let's Move! in Indian Country:
Today, Native Americans – particularly youth – have one of the highest obesity rates in the country. Although progress can be a good thing and has made our lives extensively easier, it is imperative that we keep these reminders and retain our old ways to have a healthy future as indigenous peoples. I feel this is even more appropriate when on the subject of Native American issues of our health and environmental stewardship. After all, if we can’t take care of the haatsi (land), how can we expect it take care of us. By getting outside and being active in our country’s public lands, and by eating right and caring about where our food comes from, we can raise a healthier, more environmentally conscious generation.
Read Gillette's full blog including Lowden's reflections here.
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