Recently in our community a regional conference was held on diabetes and its effects on our people in Eeyou Astchee. I would like to add some recommendations, things that we as a community could consider to lead us towards prevention in the fight against diabetes.
The need for better nutrition and more physical activity is a main focus. The late Reuben Voyageur told a story about kaawiipinkaashich a few years ago when we were trying to find where the name came from. He told us he was a young boy when a fire went through there which they fought to put it out. Reuben went on to say for many years people went there to pick blueberries and it was always called “Kaawiipinkaashich.” I also remember our mother getting us into a canoe to go blueberry picking at this place, many years later of course.
I have heard that the forestry companies will be allowed to cut the trees in the areas that burnt this summer. I think this should be reconsidered, especially in and around the community. This activity renders the land basically useless for many years afterwards. What will we gain other than stumpage fees and a devastated area after all their machinery goes through it?
To allow it to naturally regenerate makes more sense when you consider that for many years we will have blueberries which are known to help prevent diabetes. With some management we could extend this activity to 30-40 years. The burnt trees will provide firewood, for individual use, for health projects and for those who just need the exercise.
My mother used to tell me of the time my dad used to hunt for grouse along the esker to the west when it had new growth. Where it burnt this summer we will eventually have small game, including rabbits, providing a healthier food choice.
In the future if we are considering access to this area for gravel or to build our community we should again take time to consider areas for recreational purposes, such as cottages around Bishop Lake.
Creating awareness is another issue, especially for future generations. Teaching better nutrition in schools is possible as this is often neglected or cannot be properly addressed at home. However, many children go to the restaurants for their lunches these days. Making affordable healthy meals available in a lunch program at the schools could be a better option. The idea is they get used to these foods and will stay away from harmful ones.
As community members living with diabetes we must also help ourselves. Starting a Diabetes Club that’s there for support, that organizes events focused on prevention could assist CBHSS and Public Health.
Since the number of diabetics is growing annually, especially in Mistissini, action has to be taken to prepare ourselves. Consider the numbers of people not diagnosed because they are unaware and those who will not get check ups even when they have the symptoms. There are many who know they will be refused coverage under group insurance where they work if they are diagnosed with diabetes. There are probably more who are not reporting properly in their application forms.
Not only is it scary to think of what the actual number of people with diabetes could be, but what will happen when employees can no longer work? Can the band as a major employer walk away and state it was not their fault?
The BBC aired a report recently stating diabetes is the latest epidemic that could wipe-out First Nations peoples across the globe. There are Cree communities today in our Eeyou Astchee that likely have 50 per cent of their population living with this disease. By the latest statistics Mistissini could be as high as 1,000 people. We must look at this as a fight to save our people. There will be many who will be lost, many who will be crippled that will have to be accepted. Changes need to be made immediately. But do not forget our people survived many generations through various diseases, famines since man first walked this earth.