Ge-Niigaanizijig Fitness Club — Making Fitness Fun for Everyone


Tim Taggart knows a thing or two about fitness. As a three-sport athlete in high school, a college football player at St. Cloud State, and a professional boxer, he’s spent most of his life not just getting and staying in shape, but doing so at the highest level. “My whole life has been fitness,“ said Tim.

As the fitness teacher for the Ge-Niigaanizijig youth program, Tim also knows that not everyone will be as motivated to excel as he has been. For those whose aspirations are not quite as high, fitness needs to be fun if it is to become a lifelong habit, and not just a flash in the pan.

Tim works with Stanley Nayquonabe, the District III Ge-Niigaanizijig Coordinator, to bring healthy fun to students in the program.

Stanley has been working with Mille Lacs Band youth for seven years, starting at Wewinabi Early Education, moving on to Chiminising Niigaan, where he worked with elementary students, and now in Hinckley, where he works primarily with teenagers.

The Fitness Club grew from a conversation Stanley had with Meshakwad Community Center Site Manager Ryan O’Brien, who said the center was being used for play but not for more structured fitness activities. They decided a Ge-Niigaanizijig club could help students take physical fitness to the next level.

“Tim was the ideal candidate,“ said Stanley. “It’s been phenomenal. He keeps them engaged by making it fun. Each meeting we see a few more kids, and they work a little harder.“

The club has now expanded beyond District III to Districts I, II, and IIa. “We’re really excited that the other districts are getting going,“ Stanley added. “The sky’s the limit on what we can do.“

For now, classes are offered over Zoom, but Tim and Stanley look forward to providing in-person fitness opportunities soon — hopefully by this summer.

Tim makes sure to start kids out with less strenuous classes to protect them from injury and keep them interested, gradually progressing to more difficult classes. The District III club started earlier, so they’ve advanced to more challenging activities.

So far, they have learned some basic boxing training that exercises the whole body, and they’ve been introduced to yoga, pilates, and dance.

Tim sneaks in some cultural training, too. He taught the kids a dance in a recent class and then surprised them with the knowledge that it was a jingle dance step. He’s also taught grass dance and crow hop.

Tim is a member of the Oglala Sioux Nation from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, but he has lived in District III most of his life, and it was there his lifelong love of sports was fostered.

Tim was a member of the boxing club started by Harry Davis and other District III Band members back in the 1990s.

“I started with the Lake Lena Boxing Club at age 10,“ said Tim. “It was a great experience.“ He traveled to Kansas, Texas, and Colorado with the club, and at age 17 turned professional, working out of Bobby Anderson’s gym and traveling as far as Miami, where he trained with a former world champion.

Now he’s taking online classes to become certified in Elder fitness and yoga, in addition to working as a Meshakwad Boxing Club coach, for which he’s already certified.

Stanley and Tim also expect numbers to increase when they can once again meet with students in person. The number of active students in the youth programs is down from pre-pandemic levels, but they expect it to rebound. Some of the decline was due to the need to re-enroll in the Ge-Niigaanizijig program.

“The biggest challenge is getting them to log on,“ said Stanley. “Once they start, they realize it’s fun.“

Tim agreed. “Right now kids are tired of being online, after all their Zoom classes and Netflix over the last year, so when we can get back outside, their interest will be piqued.“

Stanley has tried to encourage teens in the program as they’ve dealt with the challenges of the pandemic. “I try to praise them as much as I can and remind them you’re going through something nobody’s ever been through before. This is going to be in the history books.“

Stanley and Tim are hoping to add a personal training component to the program but also group activities like golf leagues and softball to keep the youth interested.

They want students to direct the program as a whole and the fitness club in particular by setting their own goals and pursuing their own interests.

“We have big plans to help our kids become physically fit,“ Tim concluded. “Because when you’re physically fit, you’re also doing so much for your mind, body, and soul.