Aquavik Center

Aquavik Center

Awardee: Igiugig Village Council
Location: Igiugig, AK

About Igiugig Village Council

Igiugig is a remote and isolated village located in southwestern Alaska, accessible primarily by air. The 70 year-round residents engage in the subsistence way of life.  The weather and environment are mushy tundra, long nights, dust from planes, and bugs - all of which often prohibit outdoor, physical activity.

About the Project

Project Goal:

To include the entire community in the creation of an exercise facility and implement an 8-week healthy village challenge to prepare our residents for the subsistence seasons, which is essential to survival in the village.

“The Aquivik provides all the tools I need to workout without having to worry about the bugs, or getting dust in my lungs.”

Opportunities Communities Face

  • Positive change comes when AI/AN communities are empowered to address their own challenges, work with their families and implement health programs that are meaningful to them.
  • Many of our communities respond to personal and relational outreach – if we know the leadership of a program we will support it wholeheartedly but if it’s an outside organization, it’s less effective.
  • In Igiugig, a family-based approach has been very effective, engaging the entire community with all generations working together and reinforcing one another’s healthy choices.
  • Empowering tribes to make changes in ways that are culturally relevant is the best strategy
  • Many tribal members respond to community and relational outreach (family-based approach very effective)
  • Fitness center itself we named using the local language of Yup’ik: “Aquivik” a place to be active which helps to connect it to the people and land

Adapting the CDC Winnable Battles to Our Nation's Needs

  • Bilingual marketing and outreach using Yup’ik and English languages
    • Using Yup’ik catch phrases will encourage village residents to participate and help youth take pride in the program
  • Utilize symbols and images culturally appropriate for Yup’ik people
  • Engage in traditional games and outdoor subsistence activities as part of their physical activity
  • Incentives printed with village logo and traditional Yup’ik symbols
  • Use of the “Honor System” reinforces traditional values and culture of the village based on trust and honesty
  • Elders named the center (IVC), involved them game them ownership, they always showed up for events

Our Impact on the Community 

  • Community Involvement
    • Promoted the Village’s employee policy that allows time for physical activity during the paid workday
    • Providing access to fitness equipment for the remote village that enables them to remain physically active year-round and maintain a healthy lifestyle including injury rehabilitation, diabetes prevention, and obesity treatment
    • Fitness facility provides a great workout opportunity even in the harsh winter months
  • Aquavik Center
    • Renovated fitness room so community would have access to fitness equipment, breaking the cycle of inactivity in the village
    • Entire village worked together to create a space for our new exercise facility – hauling defunct items, painting, carpeting, etc., and the elders named fitness center ‘Aquivik’ which is the Yupik word for being active
    • Promoted physical fitness as essential preparation for subsistence activities that local families engage in to feed their families
  • Future Plans
    • Local foods program/greenhouse – providing fresh produce at a reduced rate as incentive for fitness program when growing season picks up
    • Letter of Support from Dr. Ken Norris at the Southcentral Foundation who will refer patients to Aquivik for rehabilitation and write prescriptions for exercise
    • Letter of Commitment from the Igiugig Village Council to maintain the fitness facility and support physical activity through an employee wellness policy

Lessons Learned through Implementing this Program

  • Implementing a 5-week challenge instead of an 8-week challenge helped to keep the momentum going
  • Connecting the fitness with subsistence – made it more meaningful, connecting to their way of life
  • Involving all generations – don’t narrow the focus
  • Allowing more time for renovation and shipping
  • Participation was not top-down but collaborative among everyone
  • Balance between professional and casual has been effective
  • We are learning how to move things to the next level while maintaining the positive friendly relationship
  • We have had good experiences with a personal approach which is common in Alaska but making sure that the momentum is not lost with too casual of an approach is important
  • It can take a long time to develop partnerships and especially be challenging over large geographical distances
  • Pictures and quotes from community members seemed to be the most effective tools for reaching leadership
  • It’s important to research policies that are already in place and promote those in the community so that they are widely known and implemented