Murkowski Discusses Health Awareness and Prevention Efforts for Native Youth

Alaskan Testifies to Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined her colleagues on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to address risk factors for diabetes and identify ways to promote healthy choices for Native youth. The hearing evaluated the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI), which is currently up for reauthorization, and is of particular importance to Alaska given the state’s diabetes epidemic, particularly amongst Alaska Natives. Murkowski welcomed Martin Sensmeier from Yakutat, an actor in the recent movie Magnificent Seven, who testified about the importance of exercise and diet to overall health.

During his opening statement, Martin Sensmeier discussed the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles among young Alaska Natives, saying:

“As a Native American actor and Native ambassador for the Boys and Girls Club, it is an honor to be here today to advocate for wellness among Native people of all nations, focusing largely on our youth. Growing up I attended the Boys & Girls Clubs of Alaska and learned early benefits of the healthy and active lifestyle. Health is not just about physical and medical, it also impacts how young people cope with emotional and mental health.”

Martin Sensmeier

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Senator Murkowski then asked Sensmeier to speak about his responsibility as a role model to young Alaskans and how to encourage others to be motivated and live healthily:

“Physical fitness has always been a big part of my life. Growing up, attending Boys and Girls Club, I always had access to that. I had good role models there who I looked up to, and also mentors who encouraged me to dream big. I was always taught that physical fitness, applying myself, learning nutrition – all of those things that were provided through the clubs – would help me get to the level of where I’m at today. So I believe that. There’s a quote by Kevin Spacey that says ‘If you should be so lucky to make it to the top, it’s your duty to send the elevator back down.’ And I think that given the platform that I’ve been blessed to have, I feel like it’s important – a responsibility – to promote healthy and active lifestyles in our communities to prevent diabetes and other issues that we’re dealing with.”

Murkowski then recognized the challenge of eating healthy food when over 80 percent of Alaskan communities are not accessible by road, and stated her commitment to working with her colleagues to expand accessibility to fresh produce in rural parts of the state.

“So making sure that we have access to the good, healthy, traditional foods is so important. But so is making sure that we have a way to help get the good food available at an affordable price. We do have programs out there, through SNAP and others, but I look at the connection here between the disease that is so debilitating, and that can be arrested, if we are able to focus on diet and exercise. But if we can’t make that good food available, we’re still very, very challenged. So know this is something I would like to work with the committee on.”

IA 3.29

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Background: Nineteen organizations and tribes in Alaska utilize Community Directed Grants provided through the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska