The fourth annual Timmins Diabetes Expo October 18 and 19 has helped strengthen the fight against diabetes in northern Ontario. Aboriginal organizations and area health-care agencies have been working together for four years in prevention, awareness, education and support concerning diabetes through events targeted to professionals, the public at large and schoolchildren.

This year’s event featured nationally renowned speaker Dr. Michael Vallis, a clinical psychologist who specializes in diabetes, and Melissa Kelly, a professional dance instructor and owner of the Melissa Kelly Dance Academy (MKDA) in Timmins.

Timmins Diabetes Expo (TDE) committee chairs Julie St-Onge, Canadian Diabetes Association, and Richard Aubin, Métis Nation of Ontario, noted that the two-day event has increased its reach to professionals and the public by at least 50%.

“We have a great committee dedicated to this event and some really wonderful sponsors who I want to thank for their support,” said St-Onge.

The expo featured three separate events with Vallis speaking to health-care professionals and the public at large while Kelly facilitated a series of workshops to local schoolchildren.

Vallis’ message in his workshops centred around his expertise in behaviour sciences with a focus on encouraging change in relation to managing diabetes. He did so through a presentation punctuated with humour and helpful tips.

“My job today is knowledge translation, which is to take behaviour sciences and present them to nurses and dieticians who can incorporate the basic skills to their practice. I am also trying my best to encourage the public to recognize that through behaviour change they can better manage diabetes,” said Vallis.

The professional event was held at the Porcupine Health Unit and featured a workshop to local health-care professionals in person and through live teleconferencing using the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) to health-care workers in Kapuskasing, Kirkland Lake, New Liskeard, North Bay, Moose Factory, Fort Albany and Hearst.

“It is important for us as Aboriginal health-care professionals to provide as much assistance as possible to our people and the public at large to combat what has become an epidemic in First Nation communities dealing with diabetes,” said committee member Peggy Claveau of the Misiway Milopemahtesewin Community Health Centre.

The public and schoolchildren events were held at the LaRonde Cultural Centre. The children’s workshops focused on movement and exercise with instruction by dance professional Kelly.

“My goal was to promote health and fitness through the enjoyment of dance. Dancing is the best form of physical activity at any age because it is fun, there is music and it doesn’t feel like work. I enjoy working with children and being able to assist with the community,” said Kelly.

A cultural workshop led by Claveau incorporated traditional crafts and Aboriginal teachings on health. Committee members Hillary Deyne and Robert Smith also held a healthy eating workshop titled, “Think About Your Drink”, which focused on healthy drinking choices for children.

Schools that participated in the event included W. Earle Miller Public School, St. Paul Separate School and Pinecrest Public School in Timmins and Mary Jane Memorial Elementary School in Mattagami First Nation.

“I had fun learning about health and fitness and it was cool to learn about Native culture,” said 11-year-old Joel Wood, a Grade 6 student from W. Earle Miller Public School.

The event was opened and closed by the Omushkegowuk Mother Clan Singers, an all-women traditional drum group.

The event was a one-stop information source that featured displays by area organizations. Sponsors included Northern Diabetes Health Network, Canadian Diabetes Association, Wabun Health Services, Timmins Native Friendship Centre, Misiway Milopemahtesewin, Métis Nation of Ontario, Porcupine Health Unit, VON Diabetes Education Centre, Timmins Family Health Team and the Aboriginal People’s Alliance of Northern Ontario.