Limestone University Continues Research With Native American Tribes

Charles Wyatt

The Limestone University Physical Education/Exercise Science Program has begun to progress through its mixed methodology, two-phase study into the attitudes of exercise and physical activity within Native American communities.

The research is being spearheaded by Dr. Felicia Cavallini, Limestone Professor of Physical Education and Kinesiology. Cavallini, a Fulbright Scholar, is also the Director of Exercise Science and Human Movements Studies.

Cavallini is being aided by Limestone students Kaitlyn Thompson, Sarah Dudick, and Carley Womack who have been researching Native American tribes during the academic year, specifically regarding how their health and relationships with physical activity are influence by their unique history, culture, and heritage. While taking notes during key informant interviews in Gaffney and Cherokee County, they have listened firsthand to Native preferences, barriers, motivators, perceptions, and gym outlook to physical activity and exercise as well as the role physical activity on mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and social well-being.

Native American Research Team
Limestone University students (left to right) Sarah Dudick, Kaitlyn Thompson, and Carley Womack.

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

There are currently 14 total Indigenous tribes and groups recognized within South Carolina. In addition to members of the state tribes, the interviews have also included South Carolina residents who are members of tribes outside the state as well.

“We listen and take seriously the feedback expressed from Indigenous people regarding their relationship with physical activity and the potential impact it can have on mental, social, emotional, and spiritual health. Their health and wellness and recreation needs are important to their overall quality of life and well-being,” Cavallini said. “Their love for nature and the outdoors, wholistic approach to life, awareness of the importance of community, and their deep-rooted connection to their land and surrounding environment is to be admired by all.”

The research team is currently in the final stages of creating a survey to quantify the results of Phase I of the study, which included input from four tribal chiefs from the state and are looking to survey at least 300 Native adults in South Carolina within Phase II. Eventually, the team expects to publish the results of the study in peer-reviewed journals nationally and internationally. It is hoped that the results they find can lead to more research in the future as well as influence policy decisions to provide more meaningful health and well-being outlets for Indigenous populations within South Carolina.

The study is the result of a grant awarded to Limestone in 2022 from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. 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.

Accompanying Photo: Limestone University students (left to right) Sarah Dudick, Kaitlyn Thompson, and Carley Womack.