Meet Deb Butler, a Navajo from Crownpoint, New Mexico is known throughout Indian Country for her energy and passion for being healthy. An alumnus of Haskell University, 32-year-old Butler lettered in both Volleyball and Track at the college. She’s been athletic ever since she was a little girl, and credits her family for guiding her.



What first got you into health and fitness?
Sports. My entire family had always been active so that was a great start for me. There wasn’t much to do on the reservation when I was young so sports kept me busy. Being fit helped me excel in the sports I participated in. I really didn’t understand the health part of it until I started to see my body change when I played at a collegiate level. It was then I started to learn more and more on how important health is to maintain in your everyday life.

Explain your passion for fitness.
My passion for health and fitness has helped me in a lot of ways. I feel better about myself more each and every day. It’s also allowed me to learn what my body is capable of. I feel there are a lot of Native Communities out there that lack the knowledge of the importance of eating healthy and getting in shape. My goal is to get out there and help educate these communities, but it first starts with me.

To you, what does Native beauty mean? How do you incorporate that with your passion for health and fitness?
To me, Native beauty means a proud confident Native American as a whole. I incorporate this in everything I do by staying close to my cultural roots and following our traditions in life. For example, I greet the sun each morning with a prayer. Having knowledge in the health and fitness world has allowed me to help others in the Native community, whether it’s about eating the right foods or how to be active with or without a gym.


How do you stay fit and healthy?
I stay fit and healthy by eating “clean” and staying active. When I say “clean” that just means I stay away from fried foods and I eat a lot of veggies and intake a lot of water. It took some research to find out what was good for me in terms of staying on a plan where I eat all the right meals. I workout six days a week and my workouts normally last about an hour or less. I have one day where I allow my body to recover. On this day I like to go for an easy hike or swim.

There is a lack of positive self-esteem and self-confidence in young Native girls on reservations, how does health and fitness a viable solution?
The lack of self-esteem and self-confidence in young Native girls today needs to be fixed; we are losing these young girls to drugs, alcohol, and suicides. My solution would be organizing a group for each community that these girls can join. The group would allow these girls to be able to talk about their problems and let them know that there are others that may be dealing with the same issues. Health and fitness play a big part in these types of issues. Some of the young girls today put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to physical appearance. Society and media are packaged and airbrushed into unrealistic levels of beauty and thinness. The group could have fitness classes or some type of activity that will keep them active so that they start feeling better about themselves.

What do you want to tell all young Native girls everywhere? What do you want to tell the ones who are interested in health and fitness?
I tell the young girls today that beauty comes in all sizes, shapes, and forms. It is very important to feel beautiful on the inside rather than the outside. Love yourself first so that you can love others. Appreciate your body and what all it does for you – running, dancing, breathing, laughing, thinking, smiling, etc.

– Research healthy recipes, workouts, daily vitamins, etc.
– Start a fitness journal. This will help you keep track of your progress
– If you’re going to a gym make sure you have your workout written down
– If you start to get bored with your workouts, switch it up

“My daily diet consists of protein from meats such as fish, chicken or ground turkey, and carbs like whole grains and veggies. I don’t really use protein powders much because I get most of my protein from my meals. My daily exercises are lifting weights with light cardio and calisthenics workouts. Calisthenics workouts are basically using your bodyweight to workouts such as push-ups, pull-ups, wall sits, etc.”


Photo by Marc & Tree
Photo by Marc & Tree

For Rhonda Tree-Mangan, Navajo, being healthy wasn’t always a part of her lifestyle. Possessing a high metabolism, Tree-Mangan never gave a second thought on what she was putting into her body. However, being physically active with volleyball and basketball wasn’t enough, as Tree-Mangan noticed her sluggish moods. It wasn’t until she met her husband that she discovered that the right diet played an important part of being healthy as a whole.
Fast forward to present-day, Tree-Mangan is a thirty-nine-year-old mother of three. She’s recently graduated from Haskell University and played collegiate volleyball at the age of thirty-five right after the birth of her third child. Her and her husband both exercise and lift weights together and even pass on their healthy diets and exercise onto their children.

Have you always been into health and fitness?
Health hasn’t always been a part of my life. Growing up, I had always been thin. People, including my family, would tease me about my weight and appearance. I had a high metabolism so I had no problem eating whatever was given to me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always healthy.

As for fitness, I loved basketball. I loved everything about it and I was good too. I started playing in the fourth grade and it was all I ever thought about after that. It was an escape from reality for me. Never did it cross my mind that it was helping me stay fit. I would play every chance I got until volleyball came into the picture in the 8th grade and I only played because the coach asked me to and said it would help me stay in shape for basketball.

When did you decide to change your diet for the better?
It wasn’t until my college days that I really begin loving the weight room. My roommate was a rugby player and she would lift all the time. I began going with her and fell in love with it but my eating habits were bad and although I was building muscle, I still felt sluggish. That’s when my future husband came into the picture and showed me that eating right played a bigger role. From then on, we ate right and lifted together and I had never felt better from the inside out.

Photo by Marc & Tree
Photo by Marc & Tree

Explain your passion for health and fitness.
My passion comes from the inside out. It’s how I feel when I get that good lift or run in. My heart is racing, beating to its maximum, just testing my mind and body to see how much more I can lift than the rep before or how further and quicker I can get when I run. It’s a challenge I take on every time I walk into the weight room or step on that trail. It’s all mine and it’s all up to me what I can accomplish. When I am done, I feel energized, powerful, and ready to conquer the world.

Why is being healthier a priority for you and your family?
My family comes from a harsh background. I don’t need to explain the epidemic of diabetes or of alcoholism, we all know about it. It has hit close to home and I’ve lost family members because of it. As a Navajo mother of three children who look up to me and watch my every move, they are my responsibility. Because of them, I try to keep my life healthy and continue to strive for being the best mother I can be to them. I don’t want them to experience the pain of losing a loved one or the feeling of being unhealthy. There is too much negativity in this world and if I can keep my children healthy and fit to face it all, I’ve done my job saving three Navajo children and I hope they carry that along to their future families.

How did you utilize health and fitness to cope with negativity?
I grew up in a racist town. I wasn’t proud of being Navajo or my appearance. It was tough and thankfully I found my outlet in basketball, volleyball, lifting and running. I don’t know where or what I would’ve become without sports, another statistic maybe. I think every little girl, no matter race, needs their confidence built up at an early age. It is important that these girls have the courage to face this sometimes harsh world we live in. If their health is good and they’re eating right, it’ll help keep them balanced mentally and physically. It’s imperative the lives of our young generation stay focused and in harmony with themselves and their outside world, without them, we can’t move forward and continue our way of tradition and culture.

“Eating the right kinds of food compared to your workout is 80-20; that means 80% of what you consume will make or break you. You can do anything and everything you want in the gym but if you’re not eating right, your outcome won’t be as good as if you ate right too.”

I have a family of 5 and we’re constantly on-the-go. My husband and I play in a volleyball league. Our children are into sports such as baseball, football, basketball, and track. We are scattered everywhere yet we manage to sit down together. Planning meals ahead of time, and taking a walk in the evenings. We recently built a garden in our backyard and eat our own organic fruits and vegetables.