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indigenizing movement

Indigenizing movement requires viewing fitness in a uniquely indigenous, values-based perspective. The mainstream American mentality falsely purports the idea that fitness is an option; that fitness is vain and selfish; that fitness is all about looks or weight; and that fitness is something that only body-builders and fitness models do. This is not the case. Now is the time to abandon all of those notions. 

Indigenizing movement requires reconfiguring our perception of physical wellness. Indigenizing your idea of movement means understanding that movement is about taking care of yourself in order to take care of others. It's about recognizing that your physical wellness is critical to your own wellbeing and thus to the wellbeing of your family and community. It's about putting down drugs and alcohol and picking up healthy habits. Indigenizing fitness is more than an extra curricular activity - it's a way of life that should be incorporated into everything that we do.

Indigenizing movement is also about creativity and introducing unconventional movement activities into your routine. It's about relearning some of our ancestral traditional games and competitions and incorporating those into our social gatherings. It's about stepping outside of the box, physically, just as our people have always done. 

Indigenizing movement will lead to stronger individuals, stronger communities, and stronger tribal nations. 


Indigenous people have been physically active and fit for almost the entire history of our existence, until very recently. Physical fitness was a part of our ancestors' daily routines. Our ancestors did not compartmentalize physical activity or consider it a hobby or an option (as we tend to view it today). Being strong and active was necessary for survival. Every basic activity in life -- from hunting to childcare to food preparation and so on -- required active movement and high levels of skill.

Today, all of these basic activities still do require high levels of skill and physical activity, except that we have found ways to get around these requirements. With modern conveniences (like cars and grocery stores) in conjunction with bad habits forced upon us during colonization (like eating processed foods), we have found ways to avoid nearly all forms of day-to-day physical exertion. 

It is important to recognize that we come from a very healthy place. It is important to admire and acknowledge the strength of our ancestors. But it is equally important to recognize that just because many of us today have succumbed to sedentary lifestyles does not mean that it is the right thing to do. We do not need to irrationally idealize our ancestors' living conditions and strive to live just as they lived . It would be impossible to recreate those conditions. But we do need to go back to understanding that physical wellness is not an option. It is necessary for survival. 

Our happiness, emotional wellbeing, mental tenacity, and ability to take care of ourselves and our families relies upon the strength and durability of our physical bodies. Exercise should not be viewed as an option. In order to prevent chronic illnesses, debilitating injuries, and even neurological disorders, we need to stay physically active. 

Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one feels thirsty, or forging weapons after the war has already begun.
— Nei Jing, 2nd Century BC

HISTORY of indigenous movement

Historical reports from Euro-americans tell us about the physiques and appearances of our ancestors. They were eating unprocessed foods and living very active lifestyles,so they looked different from how many of us look today. Even the world's most notorious colonial explorer, Christopher Columbus, acknowledged the evident strength of the Native people he first met. In the year 1492, when Columbus initially encountered the Guanahani in San Salvadore,  he wrote in his diary: “They are very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces.” The following day he wrote, “All alike have very straight legs and no belly but are very well formed.”

They are very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces... All alike have very straight legs and no belly.
— Christopher Columbus, 1492

In the above historical photo, we can see another much more recent example of how well formed our ancestors' physiques remained. The men above were a part of one of the first tribal police forces. Even though they had already undergone the early stages of colonization, they were still living active lifestyles and eating ancestral foods. The active lifestyles of our traditional people allowed them to stay lean, strong, and agile, ready for anything. Their physical strength and endurance was admired by all. This is the legacy of Indigenous wellness. This is who we are. 

food and fitness

Indigenizing movement also involves a return to ancestral diet and recreating a respectful relationship with food. Today, we complain about having to drive to the store to buy groceries. We consider it a task or a chore. But the effort involved in taking a trip to the grocery store is minimal compared to what our relatives had to do to get food. 

Not so long ago, there was no such thing as a grocery store. Our ancestors had to work hard for their food. To say they were skilled is an understatement. Each meal involved some combination of gathering, hunting, fishing, farming, harvesting, drying, cooking, and all of the tasks and obstacles that go along with those processes. Since so much of the food production methods were extremely time consuming and strenuous, it is no wonder our ancestors were more in tune with their food, more appreciative of it, and ultimately, more healthy. In those days, food simply could not be grown or gathered without some type of physically strenuous work: the fitness element. The more in shape you were, the more adept you would be at procuring food for your family and community. Today, we should reestablish some of these physically strenuous food preparation activities in order to recognize the privilege of healthy eating opportunities. As soon as we begin to establish an understanding of food as a luxury again, we will begin to desire real food instead of processed food, and we will choose to eat healthy in order to stay well. 


The following are a few steps you should take in order to INDIGENIZE your approach to fitness. 

  1. RESPECTRespect your space by keeping it organized and clean. Respect your community by inviting others to join and offering encouragement to your workout partners. Try to tone down the teasing while exercising with friends and family - don't discourage them or leave them feeling insecure. If you know more than somebody, teach them. Finally, if you are outdoors, respect the land and area you are utilizing by not littering; not altering the landscape. 
  2. DIGNITYApproach your workout with dignity by remaining proud and humble at once. Be proud of yourself for taking the time to strengthen your body. But remain humble and aware that your physical ability to exercises is a precious gift not to be taken for granted. 
  3. GRATITUDE. Even while exercising, it is important to remember the values and practices that have been passed down to us through teachings for thousands of years. Taking the time to make offerings to the spirits and land around us is a part of this tradition. Remember to make a tobacco offering or another gesture of gratitude while exercising outdoors and utilizing the Earth Gym. 
  4. INTENTION. Having a purpose for moving your body is very crucial for your wellness. Approaching your fitness/movement regimen with a purpose in mind is crucial because it is tied to your emotions and views on life. When it becomes about things that matter to you it becomes a part of your culture, or way of life. 


Theres nothing wrong with taking pride in the physical strength and healthy lifestyles that our people maintained for thousands of years. Now is the time to adapt as many of these practices as we can, to recognize where we can learn from some of these ways, and to commit to challenging ourselves further in our contemporary lives.

Indigenizing your movement means developing and implementing new physical fitness routines in alignment with traditional values and health concepts, rather than placing emphasis on physical appearance and subscribing to mainstream societies idea of fitness. We can still make fitness culturally relevant and appropriate, ultimately maximizing our personal and community wellbeing. Being well for culture is crucial in our ever evolving journey to healthy nation building.