Chisasibi is gearing up for a big 10-km community walk on June 23 for diabetes awareness and in doing so they will be honouring the memory of Alan “the General” Neacappo, a community member who could be found at just about any of these types of walks in the past.

As Healthy and Safe Communities Program Officer for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB), George Diamond explained, in the past the community had held several annual walks for diabetes awareness as part of a national Aboriginal health initiative movement known as Sadie’s Walk.

Named for Sadie Muik, a diabetes prevention worker from BC who died tragically in a car accident at the age of 29, Sadie’s Walks became a national movement in First Nations communities to commemorate Muik because it was her dream to start a movement to improve the health of Aboriginal diabetics. After her death in the ’90s, Muik’s family picked up where she had left off and the walks became a national movement.

For Chisasibi, however, because the community had not participated in the annual walks for many years, the CBHSSJB was looking for a new way to inspire people to walk and promote diabetes awareness and so they decided to put a more personal spin on the event.

While brainstorming over who to name the new community diabetes awareness walk after, Diamond said there were many suggestions but it was local Community Health Representative Lily Napash, who suggested Neacappo.

“The General was living with diabetes. The reason we decided to name it after him and do this as a tribute to him was because every walk we organized in the past through the CHB, he was always there. Every single one, rain or shine, he was there. He was also very supportive of the walk and he really liked walking. He used to walk in town to keep his sugar levels down so you would see him walking all of the time,” said Diamond.

In Neacappo’s honour, the community of Chisasibi and the Health Board will be holding the General’s Walk for Diabetes Awareness on the evening of June 23 and everyone is invited to take part in the 10-km trek through the reserve starting at the Michuap building.

The idea behind the walk is not just to promote awareness of Type Two Diabetes but to kick off what will hopefully become a trend throughout the warmer months – walking to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Because walking is virtually cost free, has multiple psychological and physical health benefits, and is an ideal way for anyone to maintain their weight, Diamond saw the walk as a perfect community activity.

Within Eeyou Istchee alone, as of July 1, 2007, there were 1,583 Crees suffering from diabetes and, according to CBHSSJB statistics, one Cree is diagnosed with diabetes every 3.5 days. This means that one out of every five Cree adults (19%) is a diabetic.

Once more, naming it after the General seemed ideal because of his commitment to health walks and to his community. Diamond said Neacappo was so committed to community participation and improving his health through walking that when Chisasibi held a competitive accumulative 2000-km walk challenge, not only did he finish it, he finished it long before anyone else did.

Walking however wasn’t the only reason that the walk was named for Neacappo as Napash explained, it was also his generosity of spirit and commitment to his community that got him the honour.

“He would always come to any of the health activities to help out and volunteer with our workshops or whatever we had in the community. And, whenever we had diabetes walks he would be there. He would even sometimes lead the walkers. People knew him well because he played Santa Claus in the Christmas parade every year,” said Napash.

Upon hearing the walk was being named in his brother’s honour, Jimmy Neacappo expressed delight because diabetes and community participation were important to the General.

“If you asked him for help or to do something, he would always say yes, before you could finish asking him what you wanted him to do. It was just his nature,” said Neacappo

For those looking to lace up their running shoes for the event, Diamond said many promotional items will be handed out such as water bottles, mouse pads, diabetes information pamphlets and special t-shirts with the walk’s slogan printed on them: Let’s fight diabetes together by walking.

In time, Diamond said he is hoping that the other Cree communities get on board with the walking movement and take to the streets to march on for the General.