Sadie Muik was a Native woman from out west. She was a well-loved woman who worked to raise awareness of diabetes. Tragically, she was killed by a logging truck. Her community started a yearly walk to honour her memory.

The walk for Sadie has grown. Each year, Native communities across Canada and the U.S. join in a walk to raise awareness about diabetes and Native peoples. They walk to remember Sadie and all the loved ones lost to diabetes.

This year is the first time the Cree communities joined in and walked. All nine communities participated. Waskaganish and Chisasibi fielded the most walkers with 225 people each. The smallest gathering of 51 people was far more than the organizers expected. “We didn’t expect more than 10 or 15 people to show up,” said Robert Harris of the Cree Health Board.

Cree Health Board organizers are worried about the numbers of diabetes in the Cree territory. Currently about 8 per cent of the Cree population are diagnosed with diabetes. But the numbers may actually be double that or even higher, Harris said. He said in a similar Native community the rate was 23 per cent, or the third highest rate in the world.

By contrast the rate in the rest of Canada’s population is about 2.5 per cent. The low figure in the rest of Canada is why the Cree Health Board has limited resources to deal with the diabetes epidemic facing Natives, said Harris.

“In the south concerns are AIDS and tobacco. These areas are well-funded. We receive funding for thatand have to spend money

on it. We have no choice. But we get next to nothing for diabetes even though it is of great concern for the Crees,” said Harris.

Harris said it is a new illness for the Crees and most knew nothing about it. “One patient who was diagnosed two years ago never told anyone about it. She was scared people would think she was lazy or something,” he said.

Harris said the walk shows people who have diabetes they are not alone.

Nemaska’s Community Health Representative, Rosie Wapachee, agrees. Nemaska saw 102 people, or a quarter of the community, come out to a seven-kilometer Sadie’s Walk. “I didn’t expect that,” said Wapachee.

The youngest to join the walk was a four-month-old baby. The mother followed Cree traditions of children not touching the ground before a walking out ceremony by carrying the child and another throughout the walk. The oldest Elder present was 82-year-old Sam Blacksmith, who led off the walk with a prayer. Wapachee remembers asking Blacksmith, her father, to slow down when the walk started. “He was hopping and skipping as he went along. The youth were amazed,” said Wapachee. Wapachee said he talked of walking about 50 kilometers daily in the past.

At present there is only one dialysis machine for Crees, located in Chisasibi. Harris said hope lies inawareness and prevention programs. “It’s a good investment. The cost of prevention is lower than thecosts of treatment,” said Harris. Advice to all Crees is too exercise, eat healthy and get informationon diabetes from your local clinic.