To address the North’s ever growing rate of diabetes, the community of Mistissini will host the very first Cree Regional Conference on Diabetes November 28-30.

“It’s like that old expression that it takes a village to raise a child,” says Solomon Awashish, a Cree Health Board program officer for prevention of chronic diseases. “Well, it takes a whole community to work together to prevent diabetes. It’s not just a Cree Health Board problem.”

With the rate of diabetes climbing, adds Awashish, “it’s not an epidemic anymore, it’s a pandemic.”

The goal of the conference is for the Cree community to address the disease, look at possible solutions and prevention so that future generations don’t find themselves in the same boat.

“We can no longer just throw money at the problem, that is what always happens with Health Canada or the Quebec government,” says Awashish. “They always come around and say, ‘Here is some money, here is a new program, now work with it.’”

But to develop a plan that will be effective, the communities need to have some input, he argues. With the conference, Awashish hopes to explore ways to “empower an individual to make healthy choices. How are we going to educate them? How we are going to give them the right tools so that they can make healthy choices in their life? How we are going to get an individual to walk for 30 minutes a day?”

Opening up a region-wide dialogue is the first priority, says Awashish. Health officials need to find better methods of working with different communities. “We have to work with the individuals and the community to develop and maintain programs,” he emphasizes.

Developing new community strategy is not always easy as there are multiple components to healthy living, however.

“If we are going to support a healthy environment, if we are going to do a walking campaign, and we want people to walk 30 minutes to one hour a day, how can we if there are no walking paths or no place for them to walk? How are we going to develop that?

“The community needs to come together and decide who is going to do what, what are we going to do, who is going to build the walking path? We have to reorient the recreation departments.”

There is already plenty of sporting options in place from hockey to softball for those who are interested, but Awashish is also concerned for those who might not be so interested in group activities. The conference will look at why some people are not participating in what is presently being offered and find a means to get those people active.

Nutrition is also going to be a big focus, says Awashish. “I remember my grandmother used to smoke fish on an open fire and now and then she would boil her food. Now the way people cook, everything is fried. There is a lot of fat when food is fried.”

Awashish would like to see the Crees emulate New York City by banning the use of trans-fats in restaurants and commercial foods.

Awashish is hoping to bring together as many people from the community as is possible from the Grand Chiefs to deputy chiefs to schoolteachers, even the daycare workers.

“We have to keep in mind that the daycares are feeding the toddlers and we need to work with them to develop healthy menus and healthy foods. It’s because we do believe that if you teach kids at a young age how to eat healthy it might translate into them eating healthy throughout their lives.”

Those who wish to attend from outside of Mistissini are welcome provided that they pay their own transportation but, “lunch and supper will be served at the venue and it will all be healthy,” promises Awashish.

Looking at the past, diabetes is still a relatively new problem for the Cree people, says Awashish.

“You have to remember that in the old days we used to be healthy, and even before 1975 we only had about eight people on record that had diabetes.” Keeping this in mind, he still believes that a reversal of fortune is possible. “I do believe that the Cree Nation as a whole has the resources available to stop this epidemic. We just need to sit down, have a dialogue and start the process on developing a regional action plan that will prevent diabetes. We have the financial resources. We have the government agreements that can help us. We need to talk to the government to tell them what we would like to do.”

For more information on attending the conference, conference co-ordinator Valerie Gunner can be contacted at the Mistisini First Nation local public health department, at 418 923-3461, ext. 245. Register online at