Jim Ingle knows there is a health crisis happening in Minnesota. He has seen the impact of years of doing nothing, and, rather than just accept it, he opted to make a change.

As the fitness coordinator for the Mille Lacs Band, Ingle helped to implement a program that is helping to make the Native Americans living there to be healthier and to live longer. Ingle’s program has seen success, and others have also bought into it.

That is why Ingle was at the Lower Sioux community center April 21. That day Lower Sioux elders, and others from the community, were having health assessments conducted to determine how to help them become healthier. 

The effort is being coordinated locally by Jennifer Dow of Lower Sioux who is working in conjunction with Mat Pendleton. He is a member of the Lower Sioux recreation center staff who will be helping to implement the fitness programming for the community.

The assessment was coordinated by Jeff Bell, professor of exercise science at Southwest Minnesota State University. He brought a number of the exercise science students from the university in Marshall who checked everything from mobility to balance, as well as strength and stamina.

“Our goal is to develop exercises geared to address each person’s health conditions,” wrote Dow in a letter inviting community members to the assessment event.

The program being offered at Lower Sioux is part of a larger statewide initiative known as Wisdom Steps, and Mary Snobl of Tracy, who helped to establish that program was on hand to help people better understand the ideas and ideals behind it.

“Back in the late 90s the State of Minnesota established what is known as the Indian desk,” said Snobl, adding the vision was to work with each of the 11 tribes across the state to address those issues deemed to be of greatest concern.

Snobl said wellness was an issue that was raised over and over again, and so, elders from across the state gathered to help to establish the Wisdom Steps program to encourage wellness and provide education about how to be healthy in terms of everything from nutrition to fitness.

The reality, said Ingle, is there is a crisis of health happening among the Native American people, especially as it relates to diseases such as diabetes, and he believes the elders can play a role not only in becoming healthy themselves but also as an example to the rest of the community about the importance of being healthy.

“For a program like this to work in the community the people have to be invested in it,” said Ingle, adding the efforts he has been working on for the past 13 years in Mille Lacs are paying off. “This is a big deal for the Lower Sioux community.”

Ingle said the efforts being made at Lower Sioux are wonderful, and he said providing the next level through Wisdom Steps and low-impact fitness programs can set the tone for an entire community.

“Just standing here and watching what is happening is a dream come true for me,” said Ingle, who has also provided training for Lower Sioux staff as they work to implement wellness initiatives.

Snobl said the idea is to take a holistic approach to wellness adding one can’t have one element without the other if programs like Wisdom Steps are going to be effective.

Dow smiled as she watched people from her community doing the assessments, adding she was pleased with he turnout and is looking forward to the next steps in helping to make the program a success.

To learn more about Wisdom Steps, visit its Web site at www.wisdomsteps.org.