LCB7Fitness is an important issue in the Eeyou Istchee. But to Lemon Cree’s Theresa Ducharme, it’s not enough for exercise to be important – if Crees are going to get healthier, she says the exercise also has to be fun.

Ducharme took that message to Lemon Cree’s second annual fitness convention to Montreal November 11-12. The conference’s two-day program boasted everything from nutrition education and Elder fitness, to Ab-Busters, Lemon Cree yoga, power-fit (resistance and cardio training) and a Bounce-Fit workshop.

“I think the main reason it’s been so popular is our social aspect,” Ducharme said. “We have a lot of fun, there’s a lot of laughing. Even in the yoga: it’s supposed to be serious, but we laugh a lot. It’s more than just clients and trainers: we actually have a relationship. Over the years these people have become my friends.”

Ducharme credited a shared commitment to the health and stability of traditional cultures as the force that draws people to Lemon Cree.

“I’ve hand-picked my people and we really care what’s going on in our culture,” she said. “Not only with the Crees, it’s open to everybody. It’s a big family, and we’ve been successful because we’ve created that family atmosphere. Everyone knows I’m approachable and that if someone reaches out for me, I’ll make sure to always answer in under 48 hours.”

Partnered with the Cree Regional Authority’s Sports and Leisure division, Lemon Cree has roughly 60 trainers across Northern Quebec and the west coast communities of James Bay. The Montreal conference was also an opportunity to teach new skills to some of these trainers.

“Last night we had CPR training for our trainers and anyone else [at the conference] living out in the communities. We wanted to give them these special tools to take back to the community and maybe save a life.” Ducharme added that she hopes classes in nutrition (offered by the Cree Health Board) and fitness will also contribute to saving lives through better eating and exercise habits.

“It’s about education,” she explained. “We just had a health lab talking about how food digests. It’s not just fitness, but knowledge. That’s the key. I go to the North all the time and they don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. But today we learned about other ways to get nutrients and other stuff from food: there are alternatives that we’d never even heard of.”

The fitness conference also introduced attendees to basketball veteran and scout Roosevelt Bouie Jr., who’s in a new partnership with Lemon Cree to bring basketball into the Aboriginal health equation. Bouie, who was drafted to the NBA and played across Europe, now works in recruitment and scouting for European teams.

“I was so excited to get basketball!” exclaimed Ducharme. Bouie’s company, Back Court Ltd., is now partnered with Lemon Cree in the process of buying a developing team for the NBA – a minor league team from which the majors come to pick their players.

“I’m really excited to have the chance for some of our people to go into professional sports,” Ducharme said, “and then go back to the community and be that role model. Someone who can say, ‘If I could do it, you can do it.’”

Ducharme and Bouie will be widening their search for the next Native basketball star to Aboriginal nations all along the East Coast of the US, from Florida to the Canadian border.

“We’re going to make it very community-based for all the different Native tribes, to raise awareness, to do fun community things, and have role-model guest-speakers coming in,” she said. “Maybe we’ll find our NBA player – and if it’s not the NBA, Roosevelt scouts for European teams.”

Ducharme radiated optimism for the future of Lemon Cree and the future health of Cree communities.

“The Cree Nation and I are going into our fourth year: it’s getting bigger. We’re getting more people, and more awareness. We’ll just keep bringing in what we need, every year.”