Limestone University Awarded Grant To Study Physical Activity In South Carolina's Tribal Communities

Charles Wyatt
Felicia Cavallini 2022

The Limestone University Physical Education/Exercise Science Program has been selected to receive a grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina to fund a study to analyze the unique barriers to physical activity Indigenous populations in the state and how to best navigate and adapt to those issues.

The grant is being made possible through the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina’s Fall 2022 Systems Level Change Funding.

The organization is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System. It strategically uses resources to reduce poverty through action, advocacy, and leadership. Since its inception in 1996, the Foundation has distributed nearly $81 million to over 3,100 nonprofits working to reduce poverty in the lives of individuals and families in the Palmetto State.

There are currently 14 total Indigenous tribes and groups recognized within South Carolina.

“Appropriate measures for promoting and improving physical activity levels for Indigenous people in rural environments is in dire need,” said Dr. Felicia Cavallini, Limestone Professor of Physical Education and Program Coordinator of Physical Education/Exercise Science/Movement Studies.

The upcoming study will be a collaborative effort between Cavallini and Chief Michelle Mitchum, who is the Executive Director of the Pine Hill Indian Community Development Initiative and Director and Pine Hill Health Network.

The Pine Hill Health Network promotes community health and wellness by improving healthy behavior patterns through education and lifestyle changes. They provide services, information, and classes to people in and around Orangeburg County and Indigenous people throughout South Carolina.

Dr. David Dyck from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada will also serve as a collaborator on the research team.

The research will consist of discussion groups, surveys, and one-on-one interviews with tribal members throughout the state in order to record their interest, views and opinions on physical activity. Additionally, the research team will use the Rural Active Living Assessment Tools to collect data on the physical features, community programs, and policies that promote physical activity in the rural areas of South Carolina in which many Indigenous people live.

The short-term goal of the research team are that they will be able to design a culturally-relevant physical activity model tailored specifically around the needs of the tribal communities.

“American physical activity standards were designed for the general population with minimal regard for the Indigenous population,” explained Cavallini, who spearheaded Limestone’s application for the grant. “Our research will propose an innovative, wholistic, community-based approach to examine the historical, cultural, traditional, and philosophical background of the Native American adult community.”

Long-term, the hope is that this type of research will provide opportunities for more open and mutual relationships between tribes, state, and federal governments, and academic institutions with the result of improved physical and mental health for Indigenous people not just in South Carolina, but throughout the United States and Canada.

Note: In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating that November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994. This is also the case in South Carolina, where earlier this month Governor Henry McMaster signed a proclamation declaring November “Native American Heritage Month” statewide.