Nestled halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, 3,200 people live as a sovereign nation in the Pueblo of San Felipe (Katishtya). Theirs is a historic tribe, first recognized by the federal government in the mid-19th century but with traditions that date back hundreds of years. Yet theirs is also a challenged community as pertains to the health of their children and the resources available to help youth eat nutritious foods and be physically active.
Despite its relative proximity to New Mexico’s largest city and state capital, the Pueblo is geographically isolated and culturally different. It faces a lack of grocery stores selling fresh produce and limited state and federal funding for recreational facilities or health education programs. Moreover, health education approaches that have proven effective in other settings cannot simply be imported wholesale but must be tailored to respect the Pueblo’s practices and experiences.
And while the Pueblo once produced all of its own food on rich agricultural lands along the Rio Grande River—elders recount a time when everyone worked to ensure a plentiful harvest for the entire community—today’s reality is much changed. Few individuals continue in the subsistence farming of the past.
With the prevalence of obesity and overweight among young people exceeding 56 percent, tribal leaders recognize that the Pueblo’s future is at risk. So through the Katishtya Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities project, they will develop a set of culturally based and sustainable policies to increase opportunities for children to adopt lifestyles promoting wellness. Their aim is to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes.
The initiative will be administered by the Pueblo of San Felipe Health & Wellness Department and guided by a multidisciplinary task force. Tribal leaders and program directors will be closely involved, as will local youth and community members, the local elementary school and farm services program, federal and state agencies and educational divisions from the University of New Mexico.
The group intends to build on past successes, including a tribally administered farmers' market—the first in the state—that was part of the local WIC program.
“We're looking for areas where the Pueblo can grow food that can be served in our schools and have an educational [component] to go along with it,” said project director Daytona Raye. “In the future, organically grown native crops could be sold to restaurants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe."
There’s also recent momentum on which to capitalize on the activity and fitness front. More than a third of the community is younger than 20, and many children are now playing youth soccer and competing in league games. A fundraising campaign is making progress toward replacing the athletes’ small dirt practice field with a top-line soccer field and community park.
The task force anticipates sharing the policies and best practices to come out of the initiative with other American Indian communities.