By Jill Glomstad
Approximately 2.5 million Americans—about .9 percent of the population—identify themselves as American Indians or Alaska Natives, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. While there are more than 560 federally recognized tribes, those who claim Native American descent share an unfortunate bond: higher-than-average rates of some chronic health conditions, including diabetes, and lower-than-average life expectancy.
The high incidence of diabetes in the Native American population was what first piqued Nike employee Sam McCracken's interest. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is an epidemic in this group. Native Americans are 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
"I had a general idea that diabetes was very prominent in the Native American community due to some conversations I had had with the health director of my tribe," recalled McCracken, a member of the Ft. Peck tribes (Sioux and Assiniboine tribes). McCracken spoke to his superiors at Nike, and in 2000 the company launched a diabetes prevention program aimed specifically at Native Americans.
Since then, McCracken, now Nike's manager of Native American business at Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, OR, has overseen the development of several initiatives designed to promote health and fitness in the Native American population. In recognition of his contributions, McCracken this year won the company's prestigious Bill Bowerman award, named for Nike's co-founder. McCracken's contributions to the Native American community include work on several programs.
"One in three members [of this population] has some form of diabetes," McCracken explained. After a few conversations with his own tribe leader, he realized that Nike could lend visibility and recognition as well as Nike products to diabetes initiatives within American Indian communities.
Diabetes program participants can access Nike products at wholesale pricing to facilitate the fitness aspects of their health programs. According to McCracken, the tribal diabetes programs were looking for incentives that would get more people into the programs. In 2002, Nike received an award from the National Congress of American Indians for the program.
"[The program] brings together Nike's business structure and the tribal community structure," he added. "We now work with 72 tribes that have direct access to our product."
Collaboration with the Indian Health Service
In 2003, Nike and the Indian Health Service signed a landmark memorandum of understanding to work together on promoting healthy lifestyles and healthy choices among American Indians and Alaska Natives. McCracken believes the agreement, some seven to eight months in the making, is the first such relationship between the government and a for-profit company.
"[This collaboration] lends our brand to those communities to promote physical activity," said McCracken.
One platform for that promotion was a train-the-trainer event held at Nike's world headquarters, Feb. 11-12. McCracken reported that 85 fitness leaders from Native American reservations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho came to the event to learn new knowledge and strategies to implement fitness and nutritional programs for their communities. Dr. Charles Grim, IHS director, now wants to expand the train-the-trainer program to all 12 regions within the IHS.
Nike will also participate in the IHS's Indian Health Summit in Washington, DC, in September. The summit will coincide with the grand opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington during the same week. "This is very exciting because of the number of people who will be there and be made aware of the health disparities that exist in the Native American community," said McCracken. "This [will be] a big week for our Native people."
2003 marked the first annual Native American Basketball Invitational, with Nike as a major sponsor. The tournament invites boys and girls teams affiliated with Native American tribes across the country. "Basketball is very important to the native community," McCracken explained. "But these kids are mostly from rural areas. How many recruiters are traveling out there to find them? [NABI] put together this tournament to showcase some of the top Native talent in the U.S. for both recruiters and the general audience."
The first tournament, which took place in July 2003, featured 12 boys' teams and 12 girls' teams. In the 2004 tournament, which took place last week, 24 boys' teams and 26 girls' teams participated.
The NikeGO program was launched in 2002 as a nationwide grassroots effort to increase physical activity in children and adolescents. One of the major initiatives of the program is a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to supply funding, product and resources for after-school activity programs.
In collaboration with IHS, Nike selected six Boys and Girls Club sites to participate in the NikeGO program. Each site receives a $25,000 product grants, a program evaluation and training in the SPARK curriculum. SPARK (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids) and Nike developed a program that includes a research-based curriculum, equipment, staff development and follow-up support.
McCracken, who is a board member for Boys & Girls Clubs on Native lands, said Nike plans to expand the program participation from 6 to 25 clubs within the next fiscal year.
Nike also has collaborated with the Office of Indian Education Programs to create a sales program that enables schools to seek Nike bids and purchase Nike products at wholesale cost, similar to the diabetes prevention program. Nearly 200 Native American schools throughout the country participate.
For 10 years, Nike has sponsored WINGS of America, a program fostering leadership, self-esteem, cultural pride and wellness in American Indian youth through running. Nike provides financial and product support and serves as a sponsor for training programs for running coaches, program workers and athletes.
In conjunction with this support, Nike in November 2002 provided a $50,000 grant to refurbish the running track at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, OK. Sequoyah was started by the Cherokee Nation in 1872 as a school for Cherokee orphans of the Civil War. The school is administered by the Office of Indian Education as one of eight off-reservation boarding schools for Native Americans. The school currently serves well over 300 students representing more than 20 tribes from 10 states.
Sequoyah, whose track team won the 2001 WINGS National Championship, has opened the new track for community use and hosts track meets for area feeder schools.
For more information:
The Native American Basketball Invitational: www.nabi2003.com
WINGS of America: http://www.world.std.com/~mkjg/Wings.html
The Indian Health Service: www.ihs.gov
The National Museum of the Native American: www.nmai.si.edu
Jill Glomstad is on staff at ADVANCE. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org