ARLEE — Indigenous strength and health took the center stage during Tribal Health’s “A Warriors Journey to Wellness” event. Guests were treated to a traditional Pacific Island style pig roast meal, performances by “Tribal Wave,” and a discussion by lead by guest speaker Dr. Vernon Grant (Blackfeet), and Tribal Wave members Sika Ulutoa (Samatau Somoa) and Timothy Nanai (Australia).
Assistant Research Professor Dr. Vernon Grant discussed his personal journey to wellness and the obstacles he overcame to become a 2007 Montana Gold Gloves boxing champion as well as pursue his education in Community Health and Exercise Science at the University of Montana.
Grant said he struggled with poverty and homelessness while pursuing his education. He reached a turning point in his life in 2003, when the loss of his friend inspired his sobriety. “I couldn’t even think of the concept of wellness until I got real with myself and others,” he said. “I needed to be accountable for my actions and look at the bad stuff in my life that I ignored for years and I had to be strong enough to face it.”
Grant has dedicated his research to studying the significance of proper sleeping habits. He encouraged the audience to work on health and wellness within their lives. “Wellness is a journey that impacts every aspect of our lives,” he said. “As Native people, we smudge and pray for our spiritual health. We have our own ways of taking care of ourselves that have always sustained us. If we’re not healthy, our quality of life isn’t going to be there. Our health is our wealth.”
“Tribal Wave” is known for elaborate performances that include traditional Samoan song and dance, flame throwing performances, and breaking through piles of concrete bricks with their bare hands or heads. New Wave member Sika Ulutoa (Samatau Somoa) said the groups’ performances demonstrate strength.
“This isn’t just about breaking bricks: wellness is our culture,” he said. “When we face troubles we tend to isolate ourselves; that’s not the warrior way. Warriors don’t hide from our problems, we face them. The Creator gave us our family to share in our strength. When we isolate ourselves we isolate ourselves from that strength. That’s when things like drugs or alcohol and suicide come around. We need to be able to face our creator and face our land and face our people with strength.”
Tribal Wave group member Timothy Nanai (Austrialian) demonstrated his lung strength by blowing up a two quart water bottle. He discussed his personal journey to wellness and the obstacles he faced during his upbringing. “My whole life I wanted to be like my big brother he was seven years older than me,” he said. “My brother was in a gang and he sold drugs. In my eyes he had all the money and the cars, and that’s what I started to do. I became addicted to meth when I was 16 years.”
Nanai said his moment of awakening came when his brother was shot and killed. “What opened my eyes up was when my brother got shot and the people we called family, the gang, left him in a house to die alone. The only people who came for him was my mother and my father. Seeing my mother bury my brother made me want to change. I didn’t want to put her through that again. The people who really love you will be there with you until your last breath. They won’t leave you when things get hard. That’s the importance of family.”
Tribal Wave performed the Moari warrior dance “Haka” as well as the “hula” dance. Ulutoa left the crowd with words about the meaning of being a warrior. “You must be strong enough to protect and provide. That is is our purpose as men. We need to protect our women and children. We must protect our land,” he said.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Tribal Health hosted “A Warriors Journey to Wellness,” in conjunction with the Tribal Health Fitness Centers’ “Midnight Hoops” basketball tournament.
For more information on the “Tribal Wave,” visit: https://ywamflatheadreservationmt.com.