HP/DP Wellness Program: Elders Involved Initiative


The inclusion of elders in curricula has never been examined. Yet given their importance in tribal communities, the influence of elders on youth development could be substantial. Young people bond with individuals who provide them with opportunities to 1) contribute to, and become meaningfully involved with, their peer groups, families, schools, and communities, 2) teach them the skills they need to be successful in their day-to-day endeavors, and 3) recognize their efforts and successes.106 Having elders work hand-in-hand with youth to design social marketing campaigns to promote healthy norms provides a perfect environment for youth to develop strong bond to the elders in their community.

Many of the problems and issues faced by the Fort Peck Tribe are directly related to the decline of traditional and cultural values. Elders from each of the Fort Peck communities were asked to help the tribes address issues such as substance abuse, tobacco, injury and violence, diabetes, environmental quality, nutrition, obesity and physical activity and exercise, responsible behavior and traditional healing.

The elders felt it was their responsibility to inform the community about the importance of these issues, and to take an active role in addressing them. Consequently they sponsored a series of monthly meeting to address health topics. They continue to provide guidance to the Tribal membership particularly the youth, in defining a value system that will lead to a healthier lifestyle and a more productive tribe, and have expressed their desire to be included in other tribal efforts to address these critical health issues. The values identified by Local Elders are: responsibility, respect, prayer, discipline, compassion, love, trust, sharing, honesty, and everyone raises a child. Five elders have made a commitment to working with youth in the schools next year to model and reinforce the importance of these values.

In addition, people learn best the topics and principles they teach. The depth of the elders’ knowledge about and commitment to, healthy lifestyles will increase as a result of their work with students. They will enhance their knowledge about healthy diets, the importance of physical activity, and the negative impact of smoking tobacco. Elders who have not adopted these healthy behaviors will experience dissonance between their actions and what they are teaching, which can be a powerful motivator for behavior change. Finally, the elders have high status in the Fort Peck tribes and viewed as models to emulate. If they adopt healthier lifestyles, the corresponding healthy behaviors are likely to become the norm of the tribe, which will in turn influence tribal members to actually adopt healthy lifestyles.

Fort Peck Tribes HP/DP
Wellness Program
P.O. Box 1027
200 G Street East
Poplar, Montana 59255

Phone: (406) 768-3383
Fax: (406) 768-3383

Email: krsmoker@yahoo.com