Notah Begay III has been able to dream big, hold himself accountable and still be able to walk in harmony.
The former PGA Tour winner and broadcaster is making a difference in Indian Country. His NB3 Foundation has piloted and evaluated comprehensive physical fitness and health programs, serving more than 17,000 Native youth and families to help reverse the onset of diabetes in Indian communities. NB3 has also launched its national initiative, Native Strong: Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures. The initiative focuses on research, grantmaking and advocacy across Indian Country, and has provided seed money to Native communities in six states.
Begay is quick to point out the objective is not to just throw money at the issues, but to join forces with Native communities to overcome health issues, educational difficulties and help with meaningful change in Indian Country.
“This is a collective effort that’s going to require a buy-in from the top down, from leadership to community members to external organizations to the children,” Begay told ICTMN. “It’s not going to be the history of outside entities coming in and telling tribes what to do and once the money runs out, the program’s gone. Our intent is to go in and educate the community on how to help themselves. It’s time to stop relying on others to solve our problems. It’s time to hold ourselves accountable for the health of individuals and the health of the community.”
There are varying degrees of economic development across Indian Country. Some tribes are doing extremely well; some are middle-tier tribes with gaming and business. Others rely heavily on government assistance to survive, but health, educational, and social issues are a common thread throughout.
Childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and susceptibility to chronic illness are the same whether a child (or adult) is from a wealthy community or a poor community. There’s no distinction, the numbers are virtually identical Begay said.
“I don’t want to create the welfare mentality because that’s what is happening right now. We’re expecting other people to help us,” he said. “What I am requesting is that tribes get behind our organization because we have established a track record of success. If we had access to a consistent source of funding from tribal sources, I think we could do even better. But more importantly, it would demonstrate to the rest of the world that Indian people are advocating for their own. We’re taking care of ourselves.”
Over the past 12 months, the NB3 Foundation has started a new initiative which compiles data from successful programs throughout Indian Country with the help of grant money.
“We’re giving out $300,000 to $500,000 a year to upwards of 20 different communities across the country to try and figure out what’s working and why.” Begay said. “If our children develop a healthier mindset from the beginning, they won’t have to rely on the health care system that you see on many reservations.”
“Many of our communities don’t have access to full-service grocery stores, but almost all have access to travel centers or markets that are owned by the tribe,” he said. “It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to ask our tribal leaders to start filling the shelves with healthier options. The second component to that is to educate our kids about what they’re putting into their bodies. Soda, energy drinks, sports drinks are not good for you. If you look at the sugar rate per serving, kids are ingesting hundreds of grams of sugar on a daily basis. It’s a wonder they’re not developing type 2 diabetes by the time they’re 12 years old.”
Growing up Begay, Navajo/Pueblo, learned cultural identity from his mother. His father was instrumental in developing a good work ethic in whatever he wanted to pursue. Coaches along the way gave him the encouragement to dream big to go to Stanford University and compete at the NCAA Division I level.
“That’s the type of encouragement I try to give our young American Indian students and athletes. Dream big. Go to the Stanford’s. Go to the Harvard’s or MIT’s,” he said. “I think education needs to be a priority. It’s up to our communities to prepare our kids to succeed there. Unfortunately, a lot of our communities feel like getting our kids to college is the finish line, when it’s really just another starting point.”Dropout rates, type 2 diabetes, chronic health issues, asking tribal leaders and Native communities to be accountable are just some of the issues that Begay and the NB3 Foundation hope to address to make Indian Country a better place.
The 7th Annual Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge golf tournament to raise money for his efforts will highlight former Stanford teammate Tiger Woods, as well as a number of other PGA stars, starts on August 27 at Turning Stone’s Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, New York.
The NB3 Foundation, has raised more than $5 million over the past seven years. The NB3 Foundation Challenge began in 2008 and has donated all proceeds to Native communities.