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2022 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Shayla Manitowabi-Huebner, 25, (Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory), of Marquette, Michigan dream is “Running into Culture,” a culturally tailored Native youth running program that incorporates a holistic and community approach to promote healthy behaviors.

With her $10,000 Dreamstarter grant, Shayla will be hosting workshops and running sessions open to all levels of ability including teachings on the history of running, culture, traditional food, physical exercise, nutrition, mental and spiritual health, and basic language. Each runner will also be provided with running shoes, T-shirts, socks and traditional foods as post-session snacks and the end of the program will include a 5K run/walk.

“Running into Culture will provide an opportunity for youth to experience personal and cultural growth,” says Shayla. Her overarching goal is to reduce Native youth obesity, pre-diabetes, and suicide rates, as well as increase mental wellbeing, self-identity and cultural connection. During her graduate studies, she developed culturally sensitive obesity interventions for Native youth in the Midwest with traditional dancing YouTube videos called “Powwow Sweat.”

“I wanted to tie my passions for exercise, health and helping others into my education,” Shayla told us in her Dreamstarter application. “Then, I thought of applying what I wrote in my research to a running aspect. “As my cultural journey and relationship with running continue to grow, I’ve learned how essential running is for indigenous way of life,” she says, noting that having been adopted by her non-Native maternal grandparents caused her to be more culturally disconnected, “I see the importance of investing in our youth.”

While Shayla is aware of other indigenous running and culturally tailored movement initiatives “what sets my dream is apart is that Running into Culture is dedicated to reaching Native youth in Northern California. So far, there are limited to no programs that share my dream of using culturally based running to address health concerns in that area.” Shayla explained that Social Action, this year’s Dreamstarter theme, “brings people together to help improve lives and solve problems important in their communities.

“With a focus on working with Native youth, we address the results from years of genocide, ethnic cleansing and poverty,” says Shayla. “For our Native youth, we need a connection to land, culture, language, tradition, community members and each other. Not only will these factors be influential in impacting wellbeing of youth, but at all stages of life. “When community members come and engage with youth, everyone benefits. We’re all learning from each other. When elders are encouraged, they help facilitate change by guiding youth to a culturally conscious life. This intergenerational approach facilitates a whole community of strengthening.”

In sum, Shayla says “With the Dreamstarter grant, Running into Culture provides youth the opportunity to experience personal and cultural growth. “Additionally, I plan to learn more about what it means to make an impact in the lives of Native youth as I continue to learn what it means to be indigenous.

“I believe this is just the beginning of reducing the disparities we see in our communities.”

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