On Wednesday evening, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asked a crowd of Native children and youth why it is important to exercise.
One young man shouted that exercise can make you strong and healthy. A girl in a basketball uniform added that she wanted to be strong because it keeps her body and heart healthy. The boy said that he enjoyed playing baseball, and the crowd told Salazar that the girl was an excellent basketball player. Then he asked both why they liked playing sports. “It’s fun,” was the answer that both gave.
Keeping one’s body healthy while having fun was the message of the basketball clinic at the Bureau of Indian Education’s Isleta Elementary School in New Mexico. The event commemorated one year of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! in Indian Country initiative (LMIC). LMIC’s goal is to end childhood obesity in Indian Country within one generation by bringing together tribes, federal agencies, schools and communities. According to the Department of the Interior’s website, LMIC combines several strategies to start children along the way to a healthy future by providing parents information about nutrition and exercise, encouraging healthy choices at home and healthier foods in schools, ensuring access to healthy, affordable food, and providing opportunities for children to become more physically active.
The clinic gave children as young as five the opportunity to learn basketball skills and skirmish with age mates on the gymnasium court. Older children, some dressed in team uniforms, played a boys versus girls pick up game. Parents and others cheered them on from the stands, holding younger children in their arms.
Secretary Salazar happened to be in New Mexico signing water rights contracts with the Pueblo of Taos, and meeting with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District about water conservation in the area. When he heard from Del Laverdure, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, that the LMIC initiative celebration was taking place nearby, he agreed to make an appearance.
“This gathering is a demonstration of the worthiness of the program in New Mexico,” says Salazar. “These kids are playing, and it’s taking root in Indian country. The conversation I had with the kids about exercise and health is essential. The First Lady’s focus on Indian Country is clear by watching these kids play.”
About 50 children, their families and friends attended the event, then snacked on healthy foods like watermelon and orange slices. Adding more healthy foods like fruits and vegetables into everyone’s diet is a key component of the LMIC initiative.
The clinic was organized by the Bureau of Indian Education’s Education Line Officer Casey Sovo and Bart Stevens, BIE associate deputy director west. The children came from BIE schools on Pueblo of Isleta, San Felipe and Zia Pueblos, and area community centers.
The LMIC initiative includes several steps that schools are can implement to increase physical activity in schools, focus on healthy eating and active lifestyles, and improve the quality and availability of physical education and the school environment to get children physically active.
Stevens says that the 56 schools in his area of responsibility, including the 13 in New Mexico, have begun offering more salad bars and healthy snacks in their regular lunch, snack and breakfast programs. “The salad bars are a huge hit with the schools, especially the secondary schools. I think that kids are more conscious of what they are eating in middle and high school than in elementary.”
Stevens also notes that the schools are heavily engaged in the President’s active lifestyle award challenge, in which students and school staff track their activity and exercise. The school physical education programs are also implementing activities suggested by LMIC like the basketball clinic. “Schools, even elementary schools, have started cross country running, basketball, baseball, and volleyball teams, which is unusual for elementary schools. That’s almost nonexistent in public schools. Within the BIE funded schools, the teams compete against each other regularly.”
In his remarks, Secretary Salazar, an avid basketball player, also asked the children whether they knew who President Obama was, what he does, and what his favorite sport is. Many children knew that the President liked to play basketball. Then, Salazar demonstrated President Obama’s favorite basketball shot, attempting (but failing) to sink a 3-pointer from the top of the key. He then handed the ball to a boy and girl to make the same shot. Neither of the children made the shot, either.
For more information about the LMIC initiative, visit www.letsmove.gov/indiancountry.