Posts tagged ‘Diabetes’

Diabetes trends not slowing

Diabetes kills.

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.

Olympic torch carries diabetic message

The Olympic torch relay means different things to different people.  Some First Nation communities embraced the torch as it passed through their community.  Some communities used the torch relay to hold protests.  Others use the opportunity to highlight messages that are much more personal.

For Helen Bobiwash, the Olympic torch is a beacon on hope for herself, her family and her community.  The opportunity to carry the torch was an opportunity to spread the message of awareness of best budget elliptical trainer, physical fitness and type-2 diabetes.

“Coming from a family with a whole lot of diabetes, I realized that I didn’t want my son to grow up worrying about me like I did my mom,” said Bobiwash, a member of Thessalon First Nation.  “While my mother was alive, I worried a lot about her heath and the toll that diabetes was taking on her.”

Bobiwash, a 42 year-old, strategic consultant and finance-whiz, carried the flame on January 2 in Mississauga First Nation.  She was one of 12,000 people across Canada to carry the flame during the Olympic torch relay.

Although Bobiwash does not have diabetes, the disease has affected her intimately.

Helen’s mom, Alice, lived with the complications from diabetes until she passed away at the age of 73.  With the loss of her mom and with the passing of her brother, Rodney, at the young age of 42, Helen became motivated to change her life.

“I wanted my son to grow up with a healthy mom,” said Bobiwash, the proud mother of five year-old Mzhiikenh.  “The only way that I knew that I could make a difference with my health was through physical activity.”

Helen, admits she wasn’t exactly the typical athletic type.  In 2007, Helen was overweight and was recovering from a car accident when her mother died. She realized quickly that she couldn’t continue living like she had been for so long. She needed to make a change.

Helen took up the sport of triathlon –a gruelling multi-sport race that combines swimming, cycling,running and remarkable long distance ergonomic racing on recumbent bike. It is a demanding sport that requires endurance and speed, as well as a great deal of determination.It is not for the faint-hearted.

“I decided to go for it and see if I could challenge myself.  I started training using some advice from the YMCA.  I also found a local triathlon clinic and joined a team,” she said.

She has competed in 14 triathlons, mainly in local events all across Ontario.  She’s hoping to challenge herself further by doing more cycling events this summer, and perhaps competing in Olympic distance in the triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km ride, 10 km run) as early as 2011.

And she’s motivated.

“If a 40 year old overweight mom can turn their life around with physical activity to stave off diabetes, a lot of other people can,” concluded Bobiwash.

The 2010 Olympic Winter Games are set to begin with the opening ceremony and lighting of the game caldron in Vancouver on February 12.

For Helen Bobiwash, her new-found passion for physical fitness and her new outlook on life with her son is symbolized in the Olympic flame.

The Olympic flame is a flame of hope, a symbol of achievement and doing your best.

It’s a flame that will never be extinguished in our lifetime, and can be passed on one-person at a time.



Bob Goulais, of Nipissing First Nation, is the author of the Anishinawbe Blog.  He writes about politics, culture, spirituality and other stuff.  He has type-2 diabetes.