Waylon Pee Pahona’s own journey to authentic wellness has sparked change in Indian Country.
From the time Pahona founded Healthy Active Natives (HAN) in 2013, the mission has not changed. Today there are well over 71,000 individuals participating in his grassroots goal of unity, health, and wellness for indigenous peoples.
HAN is in large a Facebook group dedicated to facilitating health and fitness-related encouragement, but never instruction of what to do with one’s body and mind. You won’t find diet guidelines or nutritional rules in the group either, however, you will find thousands of individuals connecting and inspiring each other to heal. Through sharing his own journey, Pahona has been able to help address the brokenness within Indian Country, of which he has lived through himself.
“The government has formed negative habits in our people and we pass it along to the next generation,” Pahona said.
Pahona, who is Hopi, Tewa and Maricopa Piipaash, grew up on the Hopi reservation and left at the age of 18. He has endured sexual abuse, violence, and illness within his family and community, much like many indigenous peoples, and understands this pattern of pain and dysfunction as a cycle which needs to be broken. To do this Pahona knows that asking for help is essential.
“In order to break the cycle of brokenness you need to have a great foundation. It’s okay to ask for support and help. Understanding the mind and spirit first is key,” Pahona said.
While Pahona grew up playing sports and maintaining physical activity, it wasn’t until he realized his mental wellbeing had been suffering that change had to occur. It was then that he was able to make a true transformation. He began attending counseling and making a profound effort to understand his mind. Ultimately, that is what set Pahona free.
“Many of us don’t want to withstand criticism or ask for help, but you have to be uncomfortable in order to succeed,” Pahona said.
By approaching physical fitness and adversity from a perspective of mental strength, Pahona has been able to empower himself, his two sons, as well as thousands of individuals across Indian Country.
“As indigenous people, we cannot get caught up in the western ways of life and approach to working out. If you look at fitness as a chore it’s disempowering, but understanding that we are warriors is empowering. Physical wellness is deeper than just fitness. Mental wellness is the foundation,” Pahona said.
Pahona voices his message on his social media as well as in person through leading by example. His Instagram is filled with food for thought and fitness motivation for anyone who visits his page. He actively shares his health journey with his followers as well as lessons he has learned. In addition to his impact online, he spends most of his time traveling around the country speaking on reservations and attending events.
Pahona is one of the first American Indian individuals to make space for indigenous culture in the digital world of health and fitness. “I remember looking online for workout videos from anyone representing indigenous culture and I couldn’t find any,” Pahona said.
From his start as a personal trainer to present day, Pahona’s desire to help others has not wavered. In fact, his intention continues to thrive.
“Be a warrior. Empower your journey. We do live great lives.”
If you would like to know more about what’s next for Waylon Pahona, visit Native Hope Media to learn more about his year-long fellowship with the organization.
Taylor Hensel is a documentary photographer and filmmaker. She began visual storytelling through EchoBoom Project, an online blog and video project founded by herself and her sister Brit. Her work often focuses on culture, environment, and seeking truth through perspective.