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The Importance of Sports and Wellness Programs for Tribal Nations

There are currently 567 Indian Nations in America, spread across 34 different states. Indigenous people of shared ancestry and culture live in these self-governed communities, which are located on federally recognized tribal lands. The Indian Health Service (IHS) was created by the US government in 1955 to provide healthcare services and wellness programs for this population, and to research Native American health issues and quality of life.

IHS studies reveal that obesity, diabetes, chronic liver disease and respiratory disease are some of the most critical health issues in tribal communities, and the CDC also notes that cervical cancer rates in Native American women are twice those of their white counterparts. Overall, indigenous people have higher rates of disease, injury and death than other ethnic minority populations in America, and they are also more likely to die from heart disease or a stroke.

Sports and Health in Tribal Nations

Sports and wellness programs can have a significant impact on health outcomes in tribal nations, increasing both fitness and life expectancy. They help people stay active, achieve a healthy weight and focus on the positive habits than can prolong their lives, which are as essential to good health as regular medical checkups and routine screening for disease.

Participation in organized sports or a consistent exercise routine provides much more than a path to fitness, however. It gives residents of tribal nations access to a support system, which is important for people who need more motivation or simply a reason to become more active. There’s also the fun factor. Sports and wellness programs provide a social and enjoyable way to address a serious problem.

Graduates of Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s Master of Science in Sports Administration with an emphasis Native American Leadership are uniquely qualified to provide support to indigenous communities through designing programs, delivering services or doing research that addresses the health challenges tribal nations face.

Direct Services and Support

Working in local tribal communities can be a valuable experience for graduates interested in using their skills to create integrated sports and wellness opportunities. Delivering services and supports tailored to each community’s specific needs and challenges requires knowledge of available resources, and sometimes innovation or imagination to fill the gaps in existing services. Vision helps too, along with a creative approach to problem-solving.

Jobs in direct services and support include:

  • High school or college sports coach
  • Recreational program or facility manager
  • Youth sports manager
  • Community wellness educator
  • Fitness program coordinator
  • Tribal liaison for sports and wellness programs
  • Regional coordinator of sports education initiatives


Graduates who assume administrative positions in sports and wellness organizations serving tribal nations may work with a particular community or state, or oversee services delivered to tribal lands spread across the nation. This type of leadership role typically requires a diverse skill set, and intimate knowledge of the issues to be addressed and population to be served.

Administrative roles in sports and wellness for tribal nations include:

  • School district or college athletic director
  • Community outreach program director
  • Safety or compliance officer
  • Parks and recreation director
  • Superintendent of athletic facilities
  • Community relations director
  • Nonprofit development director or grant writer


Graduates working in nonprofit organizations or government agencies as researchers on sports and wellness can have just as significant an impact on tribal communities as people on the front lines. Through research, these professionals can gain insight and perspective on the health issues tribal nations face, and the positive role sports can play in a healthy lifestyle. Studying the effectiveness of tribal athletic and fitness programs also helps improve these programs by making them more responsive to the needs of indigenous communities.

Researchers might study the environmental or financial obstacles facing communities without organized sports programs or athletic facilities. They may examine social or behavioral factors that affect youth participation in sports. Research can also highlight effective policies and practices that encourage healthy habits, and the positive impact that exercise equipment and outdoor trails or running tracks can have in tribal communities.

Regardless of their role in tribal nation sports and wellness initiatives, graduates of SOSU’s Master of Science in Sports Administration with an emphasis in Native American Leadership program receive preparation to meet this important population’s current needs and address its future challenges.

Learn more about SOSU’s MS in Sports Administration with an emphasis in Native American Leadership online program.


CDC: Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country – At a Glance 2016

National Congress of American Indians: Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction

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