Sol Awashish is keeping up a tradition of a walk to promote a health message at the Annual General Assembly of the Crees.

This year, the program officer at the Cree Health Board will begin walking from Chapais to Waswanipi August 2 to deliver a message about Miyupimaatisiiun, a grassroots plan to engage the Cree public to find solutions to chronic health problems such as diabetes.

“Every year we try to have a new theme, last year it was on family violence, another year it was on alcohol and drugs,” said Awashish.

The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) plan is to go directly to the people to identify the needs of each community and how to address those needs.

Once these needs are identified, Awashish said each community should develop its own action plan by hosting consensus meetings with local organizations.

“In the past we have tried to do all sorts of things like telling people to eat five fruits and vegetables a day or to walk for 30 minutes, but it is not working,” said Awashish. “It will never work and so now we need a new approach and we need to change the way we think.”

Awashish said each community’s leadership must take ownership of the process. Health and social services are often discussed at local and regional assemblies, but they remain issues on paper that get filed away until the next AGA.

According to Awashish, the goal is to target preventable chronic diseases through healthy eating, reducing stress and exercise.

Obesity looms large in this issue because it is one of the biggest triggers for chronic health issues.

“When we look at the statistics, 80% of the adult Cree population is overweight, that is a very big risk factor right there,” said Awashish.

“If we are just going to talk about it or throw money at these things, that does not do our population any good. What we need to do is set up something where people can decide what programs they want. This has to come from the people.”