By Babette Herrmann -- Today correspondent
LAS VEGAS - Thanks to the Nevada Cancer Institute, Nevada's 26 federally recognized tribes are slated to participate in the ''Just Move It'' national fitness and health awareness program.
Barbara Lawson-Risso, NVCI's patient navigator and American Indian liaison, said her budget allows seven tribes at a time to participate in the 12-week progaram. ''The Nevada Cancer Institute sponsors the tribe for 12 weeks in hope of the tribes sustaining the program indefinitely,'' she said.
Under the guidance of each tribe's diabetes awareness coordinator, the program combines dietary suggestions, fitness activities, weight and blood pressure monitoring, and client tracking of food and alcohol
Interested tribal members must receive a doctor's approval before enrolling in the program.
In addition to the diet and exercise programs, the NVCI holds cancer awareness workshops for current participants and alumni. ''I thought this would be a great way to go in and work with diabetes coordinators and implement cancer education workshops,'' she said.
The cancer workshops cover primarily breast health, sun safety and cancer resource assistance. A smoking cessation program helps addicted Natives kick the habit. For tribes that have already completed the program, NVCI holds separate workshops on cancers of the colon, prostate, cervix and uterus, as well as cancer
''We have had a great success rate with the cancer workshops, because it's information that they would not otherwise receive,'' she said.
NVCI's breast health navigator offers tribes DVDs on breast health targeted for Native women.
The Just Move It program took root in the Navajo Nation in 1993. National Coordinator Shelley Frazier, Dine', said it became a national initiative in 2005. Their slogan entails the organization's enrollment goal: ''Let's Get 1 Million American Indians and Alaska Natives Moving!''
Lawson-Risso plans on putting a significant dent in the national goal.
''She is such a spark for Just Move It,'' Frazier said. ''What she's doing is a good model and she sees the benefit of getting all the tribes involved.''
Lawson-Risso, an enrolled member of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, first learned about the program through her tribe's newsletter in 2006.
After attending a conference that filled in the details about Just Move It, and with the backing of the NVCI, she started a pilot program last summer with the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. In January, the program launched with the intent to include all Nevada tribes.
''The program is what you make it,'' she said.
Since the program's inception, about 360 Natives from Nevada tribes have enrolled in the program.
The seven tribes that are currently engaged in the 12-week program include the Las Vegas Paiute, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, Battle Mountain Band Colony, Elko Te Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone and the Wells Band Colony.
Lawson-Risso said she works with tribal leaders to find creative, age-appropriate fitness programs, as opposed to a ''one size fits all'' mentality.
Activities range from common walking and swimming programs to the unique, such as Rez Robics. The Rez Robics and Rez Robics for Coach Potato Skins exercise videos appeal to both youth and adults by mixing pow wow dancing and martial arts with aerobics moves.
Tetherball, volleyball, basketball and Gym-I-Nee are some favorites among the younger and more agile participants. Jackpot horseshoes, puzzles and weaving engage elders in easy movement activities. ''If you get the respect of the elders and they come and talk to you - you know that they connect with you,'' she said.
Since the program's inception, three Native Just Move It participants are currently training to participate at the next North American Indigenous Games.
To add an element of competition, tribes engage in intertribal challenges such as a volleyball tournament or a fun walk to see which tribe finishes first.
''They help each other to keep the program alive,'' she said.
Lawson-Risso maintains contact with tribes to monitor progress and directs them on how to order new exercise equipment and supplies at no or low cost.
The Nevada Cancer Institute serves as the official cancer institute for the state of Nevada. As a nonprofit organization, NVCI provides a state of the art and comprehensive cancer research institute, modeling itself after the National Cancer Institute.
For more information, visit www.nevadacancerinstitute.org or call (702) 822-LIFE.