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eating healthy

Tribes teach: food is sacred, medicine

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ARLEE — “Healing the Jocko Valley” food sovereignty project is working to spread the message “food is sacred, and it’s medicine” to area youth and adults. Tribal Council Representative Shelly Fyant has been engaging with the community, giving lessons in healthy eating and native agriculture once a month at the Arlee Community Center.

“It is a joyous interaction,” Fyant said. “It is important to educate the community on food and encourage healthier lifestyles.”

The food program is sponsored by the CSKT Environmental Protection Division with a First Nations Development Institute grant and the Arlee Farmers Market with a Partnership for Native Americans grant.

“We appreciate parents bringing their children to the classes,” Fyant said. “It is nice to see the whole family participating in healthier options.”

Along with a lesson on tip-top nourishment, children receive a physical education session. At the Wednesday, July 20 gathering, Gigi Yazzie, St. Ignatius Fitness Center manager, and Carlin Matt, Arlee Fitness Center manager, played “Stick and Ring,” an original native game. The children used a stiff 12-to-16-inch branch from a red willow tree, along with a flexible stick bent into a circle. They tied the circle and the stick together with sinew and attempted to flip the circle onto the stick.

“This game works on hand-eye coordination,” Yazzie said. “Plus, it is a fun way to pass time.”

Mary Jane Charlo, event helper and educator, said the game teaches patience and persistence.

“We play so many games made from sticks,” Charlo said. “Sticks can make the best toys … just takes a bit of creativity.”Yazzie is hoping the children will be able to substitute electronics with the games she is teaching.

“Anytime you want to reach for your parent’s phone to play a game, grab ‘Stick and Ring’ instead,” Yazzie said to the children participating. “I promise this is more fun and better for you.”

Starr Mahseelah of Arlee enjoyed learning the native game, but said she would be bored without electronics.

“I like to play games on the iPhone,” Mahseelah said. “I think I will play a healthy game first, and then go on the iPhone.”

In addition to being active, Mahseelah enjoys eating her vegetables.

“I like peppers, celery, carrots and tomatoes,” she said. “They will help make my bones strong. Also, carrots help with eyesight.”

During the dinner portion of the class, participants enjoyed lettuce-wrapped tacos, veggies, mountain tea, and grapes to dip in the huckleberry cream cheese.

“We also wanted to let parents and kids know that they don’t need bread with every meal,” Yazzie said. “All this bread is just bringing the sugar to the stomachs.”

The turnout was a success, according to Fyant. She plans to continue the journey to help make a healthier future for the Jocko Valley.

“I love working with the community,” Fyant said. “I think this program is really important.”

The next food sovereignty class will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Arlee Community Center on Pow Wow Road. The gathering includes a healthy dinner, nutrition information, and a drawing for prizes.

For more information, contact Shelly Fyant at 406-546-5633.

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