It’s a disease that kills everyday and it’s been so apparent for so long. It affects First Nations people far more than it affects non-native people. It affects far more First Nations women than any other demographic.
A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal illustrates the alarming numbers of First Nations people with diabetes. It examined 8275 aboriginal people in Saskatchewan between 1980 and 2005. It compared the trends with 82,306 non-native people over the same time period.
The study found that in 2005, 20 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men living in First Nations communities had Type-2 diabetes. That was an increase in 9.5 percent of women and 4.9 per cent in men. These trends are not about the slow down.
It also found that the root causes of diabetes among First Nations are not necessarily genetic or hereditary. It is environmental. It was about the food we eat and the lack of exercise and care we have for our bodies.
In my short lifetime, I’ve seen the disease ravage the bodies of many of my friends, family, Elders and even not-so-Elders. I’ve seen feet amputated, legs amputated and numerous people go blind. I’ve known many people forced to go on dialysis in order to live.
I’ve also seen them die.
I wrote recently about Helen Bobiwash. The certified management accountant from Sudbury took up the sport of triathlon to improve her own health with the hopes of staving off the onset of diabetes which runs in her family. Her mom Alice died of diabetes complications at the ripe age of 73. However, it was back in 2002, that Alice had to bury her son due to complications from diabetes. Rodney Bobiwash was only 42 when he passed on to the Spirit World.
I had only known him briefly and had the pleasure of hanging out with him on occasion when I lived and worked in Toronto back in the late 90s.
Rodney was a class-act. A vibrant young leader who garnered the respect of so many, both on the urban reserve and in the wider First Nation community. He was a tireless advocate of anti-racism and First Nations rights. He was vocal against hate speech. He stood up for human rights and was even an adjudicator for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Most of all he was a teacher who taught me something new in every one of our few talks together. He was a teacher of so many people like me.
But I never knew the affliction that he endured. Apparently he put on a brave face. He faced incredible hardship, even pain as he took on the disease. He was taken from us far too early.
Today, I have diabetes. I’m approaching my 40s. Damn it… and I missed taking my pills again this morning. I’m not a very good diabetic at all. I’ve got to start looking after myself because, no matter how hard my Loved ones try, only I can do this for myself.
We all need to heed the message of good health, especially our Anishinaabe women. As Anishinaabe men, it’s our traditional role to protect our women and children. Given these latest facts, we all need to do more to prevent diabetes and promote better health in our families and in our communities.
Unlike Helen Bobiwash, I won’t be climbing in for a cold swim, followed by a bike ride and a 10 km run anytime soon. But I will strive to listen to the doctor, exercise and take my pills everyday – so help me God.
So help me, Rodney.