Current Issue: April 5, 2013 Next Issue: September 2013
Canada’s aboriginal communities need to shake what their mamas gave them.
That’s the message behind a new online messaging system aimed at encouraging fitness and healthy living in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit communities.
Hockey camps are one way for youth to get active and live healthier.
Just Move It-Canada is a partnership by the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and U.S.-based Healthy Native Communities Partnership Inc. (HNCP). The initiative started in the U.S. in 1993 and uses an interactive website to connect aboriginal leaders across North America so that they can share fitness ideas and success stories in getting their community active.
“Fitness is fitness, whether it’s a fun walk or a hockey camp,” says Patricia D’Souza, senior communications coordinator for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “Those are ideas that are applicable really to anyone.”
Fitness is a big concern for Canada’s aboriginal peoples. The rate of Type 2 diabetes is three to five times higher for First Nations living on reserve than for other Canadians.
According to a 1991 Public Health Agency survey, Canada’s Inuit had a much lower rate of diabetes than the general public, at 1.9 per cent. Health Canada says that it also expects diabetes to become more prevalent in Inuit communities in the future if unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity continue to rise.
The reliance on traditional foods like seal meat as well as the active nature of a hunting and gathering lifestyle helped keep Inuit fit, says D’Souza.
However, the rising costs of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables combined with the increased ease of access to pop and junk food makes it likely that diabetes could continue to increase among Inuit.
Fitness is fitness, whether it’s a fun walk or a hockey camp.
In 2008, diabetes in Nunavut, where many of Canada's Inuit live, stood at 2.5 per cent.
That is still less than half the rate in the rest of Canada, where 5.8 per cent of the population has diabetes, but raises concerns over whether Inuit can continue to avoid the onset of the condition.
“We’d like to keep things that way. All around Canada, diabetes is rising,” she says. “The importance of this project is just to draw awareness to the importance of physical fitness. That’s necessary for Inuit as much as for the rest of Canada.”
A simple approach
The program is similar in scope to CBC’s Live Right Now campaign in that they both encourage Canadians to become healthier through exercise.
While Live Right Now used a media blitz campaign of TV, radio, and online promotions and related material, the Just Move It-Canada initiative will do things a bit differently.
Since many Inuit and First Nations live outside of urban centers and don’t always have reliable Internet connections, the program uses a low-bandwidth website that can be easily accessed across the country, says D’Souza.
All around Canada, diabetes is rising.
It doesn’t stream video or high-resolution images but rather is a place for leaders to talk in chat room-style posts about what they are doing to bring fitness to their communities.
For example, they can post promotional material and share stories of how a community walk/run event went.
“You just go in and read stories, read accounts of other projects in other communities,” said D’Souza. “All of our communities have Internet - it’s not the fastest Internet and they can’t download high bandwidth images and things like that but it wouldn’t be an issue for this resource.”
Health Canada provided coordination and financial support to assist in getting Just Move It started in Canada, said Olivia Caron, a media relations officer with the department.
Just Move It helps community leaders organize and share the success of their fitness events, such as walk/runs.
A total of $87,000 went towards helping the program get started, supporting planning and promotional exercises and assisting with the official launch.
A workshop held in downtown Ottawa from Mar. 17-20 launched the program.
Community fitness and wellness activists met at the workshop to discuss the best ways to use Just Move It-Canada and how they can use technology to promote the program and get people excited about fitness.
“We recognize that Just Move It-Canada provides support to community-based workers, health professionals, and recreation workers, among others, who are involved in developing health living activities and fostering supporting environments that increase and sustain physical activity in First Nations and Inuit communities,” says Caron.
The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, located in Ottawa’s east end, is one of the seven Canadian community partners with Just Move It-Canada.
Four are located in Quebec and one is in Truro, Nova Scotia. Ontario has two registered partners so far - the Wabano Centre and the Six Nations of the Grand River in Southern Ontario.
The Wabano Centre created three programs to enhance aboriginal wellness: a goal-planning program, a smoking-cessation program and a diabetes program.
Since Just Move It started nearly 10 years ago with 20 Native communities in the U.S., 395 unique community organizers or associations have used the initiative to build programs and organize activities with the goal of increasing the health of aboriginal people across North America.
Just Move It Around North America
Here are some Just Move It programs from Canada and across the United States:
Helping aboriginal people quit smoking by educating them about the health risks and the traditional, ceremonial role tobacco played in aboriginal cultures.
Dancing for Health
Kodiak Diabetes Prevention
Kodiak Island, Alaska
Seeks to help people integrate fitness into their daily lives with programs that incorporate walking and various resistance exercises like squats and lunges. Offers lessons about fitness and diet alongside instruction in the Alutiiq language.
Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California
Washoe men and women enter the tribe's traditional hot spring where they are lead by trained experts in exercises meant to ease arthritis and other joint problems.
San Diego Urban Natives
San Diego, California
Invites aboriginal peoples of all ages to learn the traditional stickball game of the Choctaw people. Includes lessons in how to make the towa (ball) and the koboca (sticks). In learning the rules of the game participants also hear traditional stories, legends, and learn the ethics of the Choctaw people.