When I stepped off the plane in Chisasibi my first thought was I should’ve put the longjohns on back in Montreal. It was a chill wind grabbing at my warmth. I hurried into the terminal with Neil. We arrived to watch the end of an extraordinary walk across 1400 km of Eeyou Istchee.

That chill wind was felt by some of the walkers as they walked to talk about diabetes and the threat it poses to the Cree. Solomon Awashish, whose dream of this walk started it all off, had severe frostbite on his cheeks but was determined to finish what he had started.

The walkers were due to arrive in Chisasibi March 22 and were camped 18 km outside of town. When we visited they were in high spirits. Their numbers would grow to 91 people as a few people joined for the final stretch. Neil put on some moccasins and joined them for part of the walk to get some of the great photos. He was nicknamed the jogger, as he would run out ahead of them and up and down the line snapping photos.

I went to the Chisasibi cultural camp where over 400 people were on hand to greet them. People came in from all over the territory to be on hand. It was a time to celebrate a journey’s end and its success.

Only one chief was on hand to greet the walkers, Chief Abraham Rupert of Chisasibi. He told me that Chief Robert Weistche wanted to come but gave his seat up to a patient. All of the other chiefs were in Hull attending a council/board meeting and Grand Chief Ted Moses sent a message congratulating the walkers.

Later that day there was a feast in their honour with gifts for all of the walkers. Air Creebec donated beautiful jackets that a few walkers said they would have liked to have on the walk itself. The high point of the feast though was the wellness journey cake. After being proudly displayed, it was hurled to the floor asGeorge Diamond explained that the sugar in the cake was bad for diabetics. There were more than a few surprised faces and laughter when a mini food fight erupted on stage with the remains.

I had a chance to talk to a few people involved in the walk.

Crystal Jolly, the youngest walker Hello to everyone in Eeyou Istchee. My name is Crystal Jolly. I am nine years old and I live in Mistissini. I started my journey from Mistissini with my parent and my oldest sister. I am on this journey walking for other people who are sick with diabetes. I am walking for both my grandmother, who is diabetic, and also for my mother, who is almost a diabetic. I am happy I have finished this journey with all my family and I thank God for the strength he has given and shown me.

The Crees of Eastern James Bay are experiencing a diabetes diabetic. There are 3 to 5 times more diabetes in Eeyou Istchee than in the general population of Canada.

As of May 2001, there were 975 people diagnosed with diabetes.

The total number of people with diabetes has increased by more than 4 times since 1989.

Two thirds of Cree with diabetes already have some damage to their bodies.

94 per cent of people with diabetes are overweight.

One quarter of people with diabetes are under 40 years old.

Of the 975 people with diabetes, 624 were women and 351 were men.

Bertie Wapachee, Chair of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services Hello to everyone. As Chairman of the Health Board I am very proud to have recruited someone like Solomon (Awashish) and George (Diamond), who have been such a great team promoting this journey as well as educating the Cree about diabetes and other important health issues.

I think the completion of this journey shows a lot of great results. Especially those who have participated in this journey. They look good. They are an example of what all of our nation can look like if we all do the same thing… take care of ourselves physically and live healthier lives.

I think what’s important now is to continue what we are doing. We started something here and I hope it continues. Not only for those who participated in the journey but that every community will start doing things on their own to promote healthier lives.

One of the things I want to say if that I feel for those people and families that have lost loved ones because of causes from this disease. What we are doing now is a good start. A few years ago bringing home some people was a start and even now what we have done here another step taken towards taking care of ourselves even more.

It’s not hard to think of a journey from one community to another until you have traveled all of Eeyou Istchee anymore because a lot of people have done it. It wouldn’t take long to get out your snowshoes and take an hour walk to take care of yourself. We have to start taking care of ourselves and not wait for people like Solomon and George to tell us when to exercise and when to walk. We have to take that responsibility for ourselves as individuals. As they say to live healthier lives you start with the individual, the family and the community so the nation becomes healthier nation. That was what we were striving for. I certainly hope it’s not the end of journey but part of a journey we have all been striving for… a healthier life.

There’s something that we should all keep in mind. It takes an individual to live a healthier life but it also takes our leadership to get involved in these things and promote healthier lives, not only to prevent diabetes but also to prevent people from going into alcoholism, drugs or anything else that hurts our people,

our children and our nation. Diabetes is one thing. It a major cause in our territory of why our people are in the state they are health wise. Leadership has to take the responsibility as well as individuals. It can’t be just the Health Board anymore; it has to be a team effort. Everyone has to be involved because everyone is affected.

Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas fails to make insulin or the body cannot use the insulin created. Insulin is needed to move glucose (a type of sugar) out of the blood and into muscles and cells where it can be used as energy.

A high level of glucose in the blood acts like a poison to damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels in our body.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition and the risk of getting it increases as you gain weight and the longer you stay overweight.

George Diamond I think the overall purpose or goal of the Wellness Journey was to make people more aware of diabetes. One of the things I believe in is if we are going to be successful in these different campaigns we have to rely on our traditional activities. It has to be a traditional activity and part of our culture and history. It’s because when we use something like that and we go on the land we make people more sensitive to our cause. We reach a lot of people that way. Mainly we did this campaign in such a way that we touched people’s hearts. That was one of the things we set out to do as we wanted people to be emotional about diabetes.

Through the stops in the communities we met people who would tell us stories. They told us stories about how they are dealing with diabetes, how they lost loved ones to diabetes and from those stories we learnt a lot.

I think people are serious about doing something about diabetes.

We have to educate our children and our grandchildren. This has to be done in the home. I think that’s where we will have a long-term success in the fight against diabetes. I honestly think we can beat this disease. We have to say we are going to going to do something about and put our words into action.

What we did was a regional event and it was an opportunity to get all the communities involved.

What I would like to see is each community start their own healing journeys on diabetes. By getting a group of people to go on these journeys, regardless of their age, it will be one of more successful approaches. I feel each community should take the initiative and organize themselves.

Solomon Awashish Hi, I’m one of the walkers. This walk has changed my life. I feel really proud and happy I have completed the walk. I feel that the walk was successful. We raised awareness about diabetes. At the same time it taught me a lot about myself and the things I need to work on for me to grow. It taught me a lot of things about the land. It made me realize how beautiful the land was that was created for us and been given to us. There are a lot of things that are taken for granted and now I realize the beauty of them. Even to look at a simple spruce tree. The boughs served us and gave us warmth and shelter. It acted as our floor giving us insulation from the snow. It kept the dogs warm at night. It gave us indicators for us on the lake so we knew where the path was. One time we took the wrong route because there were no trees to show us the way. An Elder once told me that these were used as a landmark or indication of where the trails were.

All together the walk has changed my life but it is only the beginning. I’ll have to continue my healing.

When you walk there’s the physical side of it. You feel good about yourself.

This Walk touched the four components of wellness: the physical in the traditional walk itself, the mental side of it as we had to be tough to finish it, the spiritual aspect of it- I felt the presence of God out there, He talked to me a couple of times, and the emotional as I dealt with my emotion. There were times on the walk when I cried just thinking about the pain and trauma I have encountered in my life. Altogether this walk has been a good experience for me. Thank you Freddy Jolly- just before the hockey game and after the walk. The walkers won 13-12.

Every day we practiced while we walked. First we exercised and now we play.

The walk was O.K. Everyone did their own chores. It went well and I’m happy. I’m still happy but I’m a little sad that everyone will be leaving and going back to their communities. This is the best journey I have ever went through.

I’m thinking about retiring but still have my hockey career, (laughter) But I’m thinking of maybe walking again too.

[At the beginning of the journey Freddy brought two dogs owned by a French-speaking person. They could only understand French.] They’re still in Waswanipi because I don’t speak French. I don’t know how to say go in French even. That’s why they’re still waiting for me in Waswanipi. Maybe next year they’ll be ready.

It’s a fun journey and tonight we are playing hockey just for fun.

It is known that family history, being overweight and not exercising have a strong influence on whether or not you will get diabetes.

For all First Nations people in Canada, diabetes is 2-3 times higher than for the rest of country.

80 per cent of Cree with diabetes are obese.

90 per cent of Cree with diabetes have one or more risk factors over which they have control: smoking, obesity and lack of exercise.

Diabetes can be prevented or delayed.

Diabetes may surface under severe emotional stress, severe illness, surgery, and with pregnancy.

Jimmy Etapp Hello, I’m from Mistissini and I work in the reception centre. My job is working with young people. This year we had an opportunity to participate on this journey. Three clients and myself from the centre went on this Wellness Journey. We had noticed that our youth had a desire to walk. The three youth have expressed what they are facing when they are in the community. They really wanted to go out somewhere and work on these problems. So that’s why these youth went on this journey. For them the Walk was quite an experience because these three youth had never actually been out on the land. For them it was quite something as they learnt their traditional values. It has helped them in their lives to back out on the land. They also said they had been away from peer pressure and it has helped them turn themselves around.

For me, this journey has really helped because Miyupmaatisiitaau on diabetes because myself, I am a diabetic. It has really help me in my health. I’ve learnt to eat the proper meals I am supposed to be having and daily I have exercised on snowshoes. I encourage other people that are diabetics that they try to follow this tradition. It will help them in their health and in their lives. As of now there is no cure but we can prevent it. We can look at the awareness of diabetes. For me it has really helped me as a diabetic and I look forward to other people joining these journeys to learn to take care of themselves.

Demerise Mayappo I’m from Eastmain. My dad is diabetic and he has been using insulin for 17 years. I gave part of my life so I could walk for him.

Sometimes this journey was hard but I liked it. I am really happy I completed the whole journey. When I started in Waswanipi people were shy at first but now we are like friends. A complete family.

When I was approaching the end there was something in my heart that told me I made it through the 63 days. I had tears in my eyes because I couldn’t believe I had walked all this way. I felt good. I lost weight, about 25 pounds. Other people lost weight too.

Some of them they had healing from alcohol and drugs. And some of us were walking for diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes include: frequent urination, changes in appetite, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, unusual thirst, unexplained weight loss, irritability and tingling in hands or feet. Not all syptoms must be present to indicate diabetes so if you have any of them get tested at your local clinic, the sooner you get tested the better chance you have.

Over the past five years, 57 people with diabetes have died.

Diabetes is preventable. Get tested early. Get your weight down if you are overweight. Exercise. Eat healthy foods. Learn about diabetes.

Diabetes is a silent disease but early detection can delay or prevent complications of diabetes.

One Chisasibi Family’s Experience with Diabetes We dedicate this message to all the diabetic people in all nine Cree Communities.

Written by: The Duff family: George, Alice, Norman, Agnes,

Victoria, Catherine, Andrew, Doris, Harry & Mary Duff,

The Chiskamish family: Jacqueline, Matthew & their children: Emma, Jessica, Edith, Katrina and Robbie Chiskamish First of all, we would like to congratulate Edith Chiskamish for completing her Wellness Journey. We are very proud of her. We cannot express the joy we felt upon her safe return to Chisasibi. When she left for Wemindji, it really touched our hearts. We are thanking all the organizers for taking such good care of her. When the journey through Eeyou Istchee took place in 1999, Edith begged her parents to let her go but they didn’t allow her at that time. She knew that the journey was taking place to raise money for the hemodialysis machine to be installed at the Chibougamau hospital. She also knew that her grandmother would soon be hooked up to a dialysis machine. She had said she wanted to help raise money for this machine and she wanted to be allowed to join the next journey through Eeyou Istchee. We could see the disappointment in her eyes when again we said she couldn’t go yet.

This winter, Edith once again asked to be allowed to go, this time on the Wellness Journey that would raise awareness on the Diabetes Epidemic among the Cree people. She asked again if she could go but we didn’t give her a yes or no answer because her grandmother was getting weaker every day. Towards the end of February, she asked again if she could go and this time we gave her our permission. We told her that maybe she could join them the last day of the journey but she wanted to start walking from Wemindji. We, her parents, have considered her one of our special children because she was born with medical problems. She had asthma and a skin condition called eczema, which causes skin infections. We let her join the walkers starting from Wemindji.

Our daughter Edith Chiskamish dedicates her Wellness Journey from Wemindji to Chisasibi in loving memory to her late Grandmother Maggie Sealhunter Duff, who passed away last month, after living a long time with diabetes. She also dedicates her walk to all her relatives who are diabetic and to everyone else who has diabetes. She wants us to stand united in our walk to prevent the Diabetes Epidemic. It is so difficult to see our loved ones suffer from this illness.

On February 1st, 2002, God took our beloved mother Maggie Duff. She died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, surrounded by her children, her grandchildren, her sister Sarah and some of our relatives. She was born on November 24, 1934. She had 15 children altogether, nine of whom survived. Four children passed away and two were stillborn. She was diagnosed with diabetes in 1974. Since this time, when the doctors discovered she was diabetic, she suffered from poor health. The last three years were very difficult for our family. Our mother was flown out to Montreal many times.

This is what happened to her: In 1974, she was told she was diabetic In 1976, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure In 1981, she started insulin injections because of her diabetes In 1986, doctors discovered she had kidney problems In 1989, she had clogged veins in her upper leg In 1991, she had a minor stroke In 1992, she began having eye problems related to diabetes In 1995 and in 2001, she had laser treatments In 1999, in July, she began hemodialysis treatments for kidney failure In 2001, in March, she had an infection in her heart valves Also in March 2001, she started having cold feet due to poor circulation On May 13, 2001, we took her into the clinic because of pain in her toe. The doctor said she would have to have a check-up in Montreal. The next night she had chest pains. Her heart rate was very slow. The next morning, she was transferred to the Montreal General Hospital. She was observed in the emergency ward that night. This was to be first time of many times we would have to stay with her day and night.

On June 26, 2001, a toe on her left foot was amputated due to poor circulation. This was done at the Royal Victoria Hospital On September 10, 2001, a part of her foot was amputated due to infections. The antibiotics she was given were not effective.

On September 26, 2001, she was fitted with a pacemaker to help her heart which was beating too slow because of poor circulation On October 7,2001, she had another surgery to remove an infection on her foot She also had many surgeries on the location of her catheter for her dialysis because of her small veins Many nights, she couldn’t sleep because of the pain in her foot and leg On November 16, 2001, her leg was amputated below the knee On December 4, 2001, she was transferred back here to Chisasibi Hospital even though she was not completely healed On December 12,2001, the doctor told us her leg wasn’t healing because she wasn’t eating and also she was sleeping all the time A few days later, she began to eat traditional Cree food that people brought in for her and she started to feel better, even though she still had pain because of her amputated leg On Christmas Eve, after her dialysis treatment, we brought her home so she could be home for Christmas On January 16, 2002, she was once again flown out to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, for a check-up On January 21, 2002, they removed the infection on her leg again and they left the wound open On January 25, 2002, she had surgery to close the wound. She had to have two blood transfusions because her blood level was very low A few days later, they reduced the pain medication because she had less pain and was sleeping most of the time. She then complained of an abdominal pain after her pain medication was reduced. She had an x-ray and a CT scan. The doctors thought she might have appendicitis but they weren’t not sure so they inserted a tube to make certain Some of us went to the Montreal airport to pick up our aunt Sarah Lameboy because she was coming to visit our mother. While we were in the waiting room back at the hospital, the doctor came in and told us there was nothing more they could do for her because of a blockage in her intestines and she was having internal bleeding. The doctor told us that she wouldn’t be conscious for very much longer and she even told us that she had only a few hours to live. We all took it very hard because we were being told bad news that was totally unexpected When we went to see her in the recovery room, she was already on life support. The doctor asked us if she could remove the life support but we told her we wanted to wait for other family members who were on their way.

On February 1st, 2002, the doctor once again asked us if she could remove the life support and this time it was removed at 3:20. She could only breathe on her own for 10 minutes after the tube was removed Our mother was a caring, loving, gentle, strong, respectable, generous and patient person. She loved being in the bush before she had medical problems. She gave us faith in God, as well as her love and wisdom. These are lasting gifts that will see us through the sadness of her passing. She will always remain in our hearts. We miss all the love we shared each day, especially her smiles and her laughter. We know we didn’t really lose her and we know she is watching over us every day. We know she is now happy to be with our father, our sisters, our brother and other loved ones who have passed away. We appreciated it when the doctors allowed us to bring her home for Christmas. We knew she was very happy to be home again.

The last night we spent in the recovery room with our mother was one of the hardest things we had to go through in our entire lives. When the doctor asked us if they could remove the respirator, it was a very hard decision for us to make. We accepted the doctor’s decision because we didn’t want our mother to suffer anymore. There were times when she would tell us how much she was suffering and she would tell us to take care of ourselves. We didn’t want her to go but because of our belief in God, we know that we will all be together again someday. We know she is in Heaven, where there is no sickness or pain.

We would like to thank the Good Lord for watching over us when we took all those trips to Montreal to visit her. We would also like to thank all the doctors and nurses at the Chisasibi hospital, especially Patrick, Danielle, Annie and Michel at the hemodialysis unit for doing their best to take care of our late mother. We also thank all our relatives, the Band Office for their financial assistance and all the people who helped us during this difficult time.

Everything that happened to our late mother was because she was diabetic; this is what caused her numerous medical problems. One of the most important aspects of this disease is to take proper care of your feet. If you know you are having foot problems, go to the clinic right away to have them looked after. For those of you living with family members who are diabetic, try to take good care of them and look after them. We often cried because she was diabetic. She fought this disease for many years. But in the end, she couldn’t fight it any longer.

For us, many times it was difficult because of our jobs, but we wanted to be with her during her surgeries in the south, so we just went back and forth. We hope that no one else ever goes through what we went through. We all know there is no cure for this disease so as individuals we have to take care of ourselves. We are praying and hoping that there will be a cure one day.

We are thanking all the walkers for the Winter Wellness Walk Promoting Miiyuupimaatisiitaau. We very much respect what you have accomplished. Your have shown great love and strength because you were thinking of your loved ones. We knew you often found it difficult but you continued because you wanted to finish the walk.

We are thankful that our aunt Sarah Lameboy was able to be near her and that God had given her the opportunity to be there when our mother passed away. She gave us a lot of support and she tried to comfort us as much as she could, even though it was also very difficult for her. We are also thankful that Elsie and Harry Duff made sure they could comedown to be able to comfort us at that time.

Our late mother did thank us for taking care of her and near the end, she told us she was no longer in pain.

In closing, we want you to know that we wrote this because we think that it is very important for everyone to take care of themselves. Wachia to all. God bless you.

The Creator has given each of us control over our body, and the freedom to take care of it. We can honour this gift by making choices to keep ourselves healthy.

Here are a few tips to preventing diabetes: • Get tested for diabetes once a year.

Diabetes is a silent disease. It is possible to have diabetes for ten (10) years and not know about it. It is very important to test for diabetes. To do this, you must call your health clinic and make an appointment.

• Learn as much as you can about diabetes.

Information about diabetes is available at your health clinic and the CHR’s office. Diabetes is a preventable disease. The more you learn about good eating and healthy living, the easier it is for you to make right the choices. If someone in your family has diabetes, educate yourself and live a healthier lifestyle with them.

• Make physical activity part of your life every day. Exercise every day. Exercise will bum the extra energy stored in your body. Physical activity can mean walking 20 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times a week. Take a walk with members of your family or your friends. Walk to work instead of driving. Walking is the best exercise you can do to lose weight, and keep your body healthy and working properly.

• Eat traditional & healthy food.

Our body is like a ski-doo. If you are not careful how you treat it, it will eventually breakdown. You need to eat traditional and healthy foods for your body to function properly. Make small changes in eating habits. For example: eat smaller portions, eat eeyou miichim instead of poutin, Klik or other processed food, choose a fruit instead of chips or chocolate, roast or boil food instead frying, drink water, natural no sugar added juices or diet pop instead of regular pop, Kool-Aid or Tang.

• Maintain a healthy weight Not all overweight people have diabetes, but the excess weight significantly increases your risk of getting diabetes. By losing only a few pounds (10 to 20 pounds over 1 or 2 years) you can significantly decrease your risk of getting diabetes. If you are interested in losing weight, you can make an appointment to discuss this at your health clinic.

• Reduce stress your life.

Stress is part of life. Too much stress can lead to the body breaking down. Learn to reduce the stress by living a balanced lifestyle. Take time to play and enjoy yourself. Being physically active is a very good way to reduce stress. Get involved and help your community The most important part of any successful diabetes program is the community. Work with your community to create a Community Diabetes Task Force. This group can organize support • groups, cooking classes, shopping classes, exercise activities, school activities, etc. depending on what your community wants. Nothing will happen if you do not get involved in your own community and take responsibility for action.