Native people are affected by diabetes on a much larger scale than Caucasians, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA). For that reason, it is of the utmost importance that we, as Native people, fight diabetes in our everyday lives, especially in Eeyou Istchee where the disease has become an epidemic.

The Northern Stores wrapped up an awareness campaign on December 31. Their goal was to sell as many paper snowmen (for $2 each), with the proceeds of those sales going towards diabetes research for the CDA.

Last year, 8,000 snowmen were sold in all 162 Northern Stores. That number has more than tripled this year and the stores in the James Bay area had a lot to do with it. Over 27,000 snowmen have been sold in total. This large number was made possible when Giant Tiger stores in larger cities like Regina and Winnipeg joined the fight.

The Northern stores in Wemindji, Eastmain, Waskaganish, Chisasibi and Whapmagoostui combined to sell over 5,100 snowmen. Wemindji led the way with 3,000 snowmen sold! That equals out to more than two per person in the village! That is an astonishing number, and an example of what can be done when the determination to make a change is prevalent. Wemindji and its population of less than 1,200 people outsold the city of Winnipeg, with its population of over 650,000!

The Nation spoke with Terry Findley, the new manager of the Northern store in Wemindji. His enthusiasm for the project was a large reason why the community was so successful. Findley helped spearhead the project, and encouraged his employees to sell as many as they could to help fight diabetes. ‘The enthusiasm and the smiles on people’s faces when they give, it really warms my heart to think that people are so kind and generous in trying to fight this horrible disease,” he said.

“I’m so overwhelmed by their generosity and their drive to put their foot forward and set a new precedent in fundraising for diabetes. People are tipping their hat to me, but it’s not me, I owe it to my staff, they know how much this means (to the community).”

The numbers for Wemindji were initially projected to be between 1,000 and 1,500. The company thought 2,000 was overly ambitious. This wasn’t to slight the village, but had been based on last year’s sales of a meagre 400. To the employees at the Northern, and to manager Findley, beefing up those numbers was seen as a challenge.

To make the fundraising more interesting there was also a $100 wager on the table between Wemindji, Eastmain and Waskaganish. Whoever sold the most snowmen got $100 from the other stores to spend as they see fit. When Wemindji won, Findley and his staff chose to put the $200 towards purchasing more snowmen and fighting this debilitating disease.

In the end, they shattered all predictions and because of their hard work and determination in fighting diabetes, they are the talk of the other Northern stores, and all over Eeyou Istchee.