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Well For Culture: Wellness as a Political Statement

Well For Culture: Wellness as a Political Statement

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” - Audre Lorde, Caribbean-American writer, feminist & civil rights activist.

“...the simple fact that we are here today is a political statement. As First Nations people, everything we do is political.” - Bear Witness, A Tribe Called Red

The pursuit of fitness can be time consuming and inconvenient. You might ask: why would I take time out of my day to work out or meditate when I have work to do, a family to love, and community events to attend?

As family-oriented people, we often struggle with anything that might seem selfish. So, I think it’s important to remind everybody that there is nothing wrong with being a little bit selfish when it comes to getting in shape. In fact, the pursuit of individual wellness might be selfish on the surface, but in reality it is an act of community empowerment. It is an effective way to contribute to your people.

How is that?

One: because our communities, our populations are relatively small, each individual has the ability to make a big impact. That’s why, on the negative side of things, when somebody passes away (especially if they’re young), the whole community tends to suffer and feel pain from this loss. Keep that dynamic in mind in regards to a positive situation: with each person who does well for themselves and reaches a point of health and prosperity, the entire community feels that strength.

Photo by Robert Alexander, Getty Images

Two: even though we know that we are individuals just like anybody else, the fact of the matter is that when we are outside of our communities, we are an underrepresented minority. Not just a little bit underrepresented… grossly underrepresented. That’s why stereotypes can be so harmful to us. Most Americans know very little about Native people and Native culture. And it doesn’t help that most news outlets love depicting us as tragically as possible: the alcohol, the hardships, the poverty. Outsiders will meet us, as individuals, with expectations – and often, those expectations are pretty negative.

You know the old saying: action speaks louder than words. The more each of us – individually – who are out there living well, avoiding substances and projecting a healthy image, the more respect Native people receive as a collective group. It’s not fair that through other peoples’ ignorance it has become our responsibility to be constantly mindful of the fact that outsiders are watching us and will judge our entire tribe or family or race, even, based off of our actions as an individual, but it’s the reality. So think of it in a positive way: you have the power to empower your people.

Audre Lorde points out that caring for yourself is not an indulgence – it’s an act of political warfare. That sounds extreme, but she’s right.

A political statement doesn’t always mean holding up a sign at a protest and making your meanest face when you know the cameras are around. A political statement doesn’t always mean signing a petition on and posting it to your Facebook page or tweeting about how angry you are. A political statement doesn’t even necessarily mean becoming a legitimate leader of an activist group or cause.

Political warfare is an everyday process. It’s a way of life conducive to your values. It’s a way to show the world (without having to tell the world) that you are a good person, a mindful person, and a human being worthy of respect. It’s a quiet, gentle way of improving the world.

So, don’t feel bad when you take time, spend money, or exert extra efforts toward a fitness regimen or a diet plan. It is something that will impact your individual health, but even moreso, the health of your family and your community.

Caring for ourselves goes beyond a superficial indulgence – it’s self-preservation – and we must preserve ourselves so that we may live as active community members who contribute to the betterment of our people. With each weight lifted, with each step of a run, and with each bite of whole and natural foods, we are building the strength of our nations. I can’t think of a more positive way to make a political statement.

Chelsey Luger. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.

Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram. Ideas for articles? Email her: