Empowering People and Inspiring Change: Manistique, MI

In just the last four years, Manistique, MI, has made great progress toward improving the health of its 4,000 residents, with a targeted focus on increasing access to physical activity and healthier foods. The bulk of this effort was initially funded through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant to the Sault (pronounced Sioux) tribe, who have members living on a reservation in the area, as well as integrated within the greater community.

Located in Schoolcraft County, which ranked 60 out of 82 counties in Michigan in the 2012 County Health Rankings, Manistique battles many of the same chronic conditions that plague towns and cities across the country.

“We’re struggling with diabetes and obesity and an aging population, but the tribal and community leaders had been trying to address those issues for years, so they were so ready for broader community-based efforts,” said health educator Kerry Ott.

Neither the Sault tribe leaders nor the greater community fully imagined the size and sizzle of the changes now in place when the tribe hired Ott to be the new community coordinator for the Sault Tribes Strategic Alliance for Health Project. Recent changes include “Walk Manistique” signs throughout the region to encourage walking instead of driving; a partnership arrangement that allows veterans to get vision services at the Manistique Tribal Health Center; a thriving farmer’s market that makes fresh produce available to low-income residents; and a beautiful new 40-acre park that includes walking and nature trails, a baseball field and swimming, beach and fishing piers, all on the site of a former dumping ground.

Manistique has a non-motorized transportation plan to get everyone in the community out walking and biking safely and has implemented a safe routes to school project to encourage kids to walk to school regularly. It also developed a coordinated school health plan to provide students with healthy breakfasts, farm-fresh foods, and quality physical education that features fun activities like archery, snowshoeing, and zumba classes.

None of the changes would have been possible, though, if the Sault tribe hadn’t seen their role in the larger community.

“We have our own distinct community, but we are very much a part of the larger community,” said Aaron Payment, Chairperson for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “A lot of our members are inter-married with non-tribal people, and so we are the community and we’re integrated in the community. Anything that benefits us benefits the larger community and vice versa.”

Manistique was among six communities to receive the inaugural RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize in February 2012. The prize was launched to further the work of the County Healthy Rankings & Roadmaps program, which aims to educate the public and policy-makers on the multiple factors that influence community health—such as education, economic conditions, and the physical environment—and to provide solutions that will improve community health. To learn more about the prize, click here.