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South Dakota Indian Schools, Communities Promote Healthy Living through Relay For Life

Charlotte Hofer is a public relations manager for the South Dakota-based American Cancer Society and a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

One in three American Indian children is overweight or obese by the age of five, according to the White House. Obesity and lack of exercise are major risk factors for cancer, and the American Cancer Society and American Indian communities are teaming up to do something about it.

The Society is working with communities in South Dakota and around the nation to introduce messages on the importance of healthy diet and exercise through Relay For Life events. Relay For Life is a family-friendly celebration—with activities, games, music, dancing and walking the track—as a way to honor survivors and to introduce messages on health and wellness into schools and communities.

And it’s really caught on with kids at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Todd County, South Dakota.

For the past four years, school children from 5 area schools in Todd County have organized a “mini-relay” for the American Cancer Society. The mini-relay is put on for the youth of their community—a celebration that introduces awareness of the benefits of health and wellness. Each year the event is growing; this year there were 330 participants, and included 41 members of the National Honor Society.

“The 4th and 5th graders who participated in the mini-relay became aware of what cancer can do to families and were given the chance to raise money for those affected by cancer. Also, the relay was an educational opportunity to learn about healthy lifestyles,” said Rhonda Cherry, National Honor Society advisor at Todd County High School and a co-founder of the mini-relay.

The mini-relay isn’t the only relay in the community, either. If kids are taking cancer prevention seriously in Todd County, so are adults. ACS community relay Rockin’ on the Rez began in 2008 when Todd County and the Rosebud Indian Reservation decided they wanted to do their part to help fight cancer. And “Rockin’ on the Rez”—complete with drum groups, cultural music and food—was born.

“Research shows that Native Americans have lower cancer survival rates. ‘Rockin’ on the Rez’ is an event that has created awareness about how people can reduce their risk from cancer—through healthy food choices, being physically active, and getting screenings,” said Roberta Cahill, Yankton Sioux member and ACS staff person in Pierre, South Dakota.

This year “Rockin’ on the Rez” drew 425 people, including people from Todd and Mellette Counties.

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“It was our best relay yet,” said Cahill. “The relay is an uplifting fundraising event that brings the community together to fight this horrible disease. We recognize and celebrate survivors and their caregivers—they spread the message of HOPE for others.”

Funds from the mini-relay and Rockin’ on the Rez community relay support the American Cancer Society—in such areas as research to find cures, services and programs for survivors.

To join Relay Nation and find a Relay for Life event in your area—or to start one—visit the American Cancer Society’s website at or call 1.800.227.2345.

Never been to a Relay For Life?

Find out what all the excitement’s about. Check out this VIDEO “Rockin’ on the Rez 2011” Todd County on Animoto:

About the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society fights for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping you stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early, helping you get well by being there for you during and after a diagnosis, by finding cures through groundbreaking discovery and fighting back through public policy. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing about $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit