Let’s Move! In Indian Country

Jared Wilder (left) poses for a photo with his sister, Maymi Preston-Donahue in Washington D.C. / Photos courtesy of Preston-Donahue.

First Lady Invites Karuk Youth Council to Nation’s Capital

By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

Karuk Councilmember, Crispin McAllister hopes the eight teenagers he led to Washington D.C. earlier this month will be inspired to do great things in their lives and for their communities.

“They got to rub shoulders with tribal people who have climbed the ladder—the high ranking staff at the white house,” he said. “It was good for them to see what opportunities are out there and learn about some of the things we can do in our own communities.”

The Youth Council’s journey to Washington began in March when McAllister welcomed their participation in his 230-mile trek through Karuk ancestral territory. He coordinated and embarked on the journey from Orleans to Yreka, then back to Orleans for several reasons. But, his desire to promote and inspire Native Americans to make healthy lifestyle choices caught the attention of Michelle Obama after TRT contributing writer and Karuk youth mentor, Maymi Preston-Donahue sent an email to the First Lady. In the email Preston-Donahue attached the news article she wrote about the McAllister’s run along with photos of youth participating.

Crispin McAllister, Jared Wilder, Dennis Donahue Jr. and Sinead Tally run along Hwy. 96 during the Karuk Ancestral Run coordinated by McAllister, who is also a Karuk Tribal councilmember. An article written about the run caught the attention of First Lady, Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move it! In Indian Country initiative. / Photo courtesy of Preston-Donahue.

A short time later, Donahue was notified by White House staff that McAllister, the youth group and herself were invited to the Let’s Move it! Conference.

In 2011, Michelle Obama launched her Let’s Move it! In Indian Country initiative with the goal of ending the epidemic of childhood obesity in Indian Country within a generation. This year, she held a one-day conference at the Department of Interior gymnasium featuring panelists who shared stories on how they inspired youth in their own communities to live healthier lifestyles and how they left a lasting footprint on the road toward building healthier future for all Native people.
Preston-Donahue recorded comments from some of the presenters at the conference. “A big part of the conference was focused on traditional foods and getting back to culture,” she said.

Valerie Segrest-Grands, author of Feeding the Spirit, Feeding the People said, “People see it as hard to put traditional foods on their plate. Why were we so healthy, and now so unhealthy…We are experiencing a traditional foods renaissance in the North West. We can prevent diabetes, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), heart disease, even community involvement by eating and providing traditional foods in our schools, our homes, our tribal clinics, offices and in our lives.”
Tahnee Robinson from Redding Rancheria was the first Native American woman to be drafted into the WNBA. She presented at the conference and touched the Karuk Youth Council with her relatable story.

“A lot happened to me that I thought was going to stop my path. I had a kid at a very young age, but my family didn’t make excuses for me or allow me to stop doing what I wanted,” she said. “I learned to stop blaming others from my mistakes. I drank and got into trouble at school. I made the wrong choice and had to own up to it. I admit it was my fault, but then I could work to make it right. Nutrition and health, not drinking, that is what made a difference in my life, and my strong family structure.”

Ted Mata, a Tlingit medical doctor and traditional healer said there are many roads to healthiness and that Native people need to stop relying on others to fix their problems. “If you want to be healed, heal yourself…take advice, incorporate traditional healing,” he said. “Your dances and ceremonies force you to be healthy and clean. Traditional foods are healing.”

The Karuk Youth Council is made up of about 8 teenagers. According to McAllister, the Youth Council functions the way the Karuk Tribal Council does. They vote on issues and record their meetings. They raise money for activities intended to build leadership skills and prepare them for similar roles in adulthood. Initially the group was grant funded, but now it is independent. For their Washington trip the youth and their chaperones scrambled to raise more than $2,000 in about 10 days to help with travel expenses.

The Karuk Youth Council was recognized as the largest youth group in attendance at the conference. And, although the First Lady did not make a personal appearance she sent a message to conference goers, “I’m asking you to start a conversation about childhood obesity in your community. Sometimes all it takes is someone to start asking questions. How can we get healthier foods in our schools? We know every community, every tribe is different, but we also know that one constant is that this problem won’t fix itself. It takes people like you to lead the way if we’re going to give our kids a brighter future.”

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