Ho-Chunk Nation Health & Wellness Division sponsored annual snow tubing event

By Ardith Van Riper

The annual snow tubing event took place on Saturday, February 16, 2019, at Fort McCoy near Tomah, Wisc.  The Ho-Chunk Nation Health & Wellness Division sponsored the event.  Tubing tickets were valid the entire day and were open to all tribal members, employees of the Nation, and their families.
“We’ve been doing the tubing event for eight years.  Last year we weren’t able to make it happen due to some of the stuff Fort McCoy was doing.  But this year, it’s been a good turnout,” said Wellness Coordinator Sara Peterson. 
Total registration by lunchtime was 139.  Some families filtered through after.  The Wellness Coordinator planned for 60-75 participants.
“This is actually the largest turnout we’ve had, which is fantastic,” said Peterson. 
Sara went on to discuss the meal, “Of course we have Darren (Price) from BP Smokehouse, he’s catering the event.  That has been amazing.”
“When we started hitting that 91 number, I’m like we better start calling Darren and let him know that we need some more food,” Sara Peterson laughed.
Peterson mentioned, “Marty (Ybarra) with Youth Services, they have opened up the building and allowed us to have the meal here, which is fantastic because we couldn’t do that at the ski ridge.”
Lunch was provided at the Tomah Community Building/Youth Center located at 500 E. Veterans Street, Building 23, in Tomah.
The Health & Wellness Division is sponsoring more events like tubing.  They are planning a hiking series, snowshoeing, taking families out to state parks, canoeing trips, and new this year is an intertribal La Crosse tournament.  Also, new or changing this year is the format of the Annual Journey of Hope Conference.
Sara Peterson said, “We’re actually to going make it a literal journey of hope.  So, we are going to have one-day conferences in each one of our large areas.  We’re going to have Nekoosa, Wittenberg, Black River Falls, Madison, and Wisconsin Dells, all those areas. 
“We are going to have our tribal elders from those areas doing an elder panel as well… (They will be) talking about why those lands are important in those areas, as well as the different stories and histories that go along with those specific areas.”
The Health & Wellness Division main focus is on family engagement throughout the year and during the annual snow tubing event. 
“The good thing about it is that in doing that, we are uniting the families together, we are making stronger family units and in doing so, the children they’re getting a stronger sense of self-esteem,” said Peterson.
“Hopefully we can incorporate culture into each one of the events we are doing and really promote that,” Sara Peterson said. 
She expressed reasons for this, “Assist in reducing the numbers in youth suicides and working towards combating these opioid addictions and establishing that strong sense of self, who they are, how important they are, and getting them to know their other tribal members.”
When asked about the reasoning for the snow tubing event, Sara explained, “This is part of the programs that we are doing in the efforts for the diabetes prevention and obesity awareness. 
Last year the Health & Wellness Division did a health assessment on Ho-Chunk youth and descendants.
“After an assessment on over 500 youth, one in three of our Ho-Chunk youth is obese.  Not just overweight, they are obese,” stated Sara Peterson. 
“So, we are trying to incorporate more events like this, more family events to get families engaged, doing physical activities without having to have that thought or that notion that they have to go to the gym and have structured exercise time.”
Sara Peterson explained, “We truly believe that in order to change kind of the narrative of where we are at, that families have become kind of sedative.  ‘We’re not doing too much, we’re going to sit in front of the TV, and we’re going to eat a meal, and we’re going to play on the Xbox or Netflix and chill.’ 
“So, we’re really working on getting families out there and engaged.  Any way that we can bring those opportunities into the community, that’s our focus.”
Wellness Coordinator Sara Peterson thanked her staff for the wonderful job they’ve been doing.  “I could not do any of this without them.  They’re all fantastic.  They are all here today. 
“We got Lyndsey Killian, she is our Program Recruiter.  We have Rachel Montana, she is also a Program Recruiter. 
“We have Kathleen Clemmons, she is our Exercise Physiologist and Diabetes Educator.  We have Christopher Frederick, he also is our Diabetes Educator and Exercise Physiologist.  We have Jessica Artz, she is also an Exercise Physiologist.”
Another focus shift this year is the Health & Wellness Division is not handing out incentives.  Event flyers have regularly advertised incentives for participation in the past and that is no longer happening.
“I’m really trying to get away from that and get back to the tribal mentality of families coming together and enjoying each other, and sharing stories, sharing laughs.  You know, having a good time without having to be incentivized,” said Peterson.
She went on to explain, “You having a good time is the incentive.  You focusing on your health, that’s the incentive.  We’re just going to come together and have a good time.  So, that’s our focus this year.”