Wikwemikong two-day diabetes workshop seeks paradigm shift

WIKWEMIKONG—World Diabetes Day, that’s Mino Gwekwaadziiwin in Anishinaabemowin, has a particular poignancy for aboriginal communities, noted Bonnie Akiwenzie, aboriginal diabetes initiative worker with the Wikwemikong Health Centre during a break in the two-day community seminar at the Wikwemikong arena.

“Diabetes is at epidemic levels in our communities,” she said, noting that world-wide the upsurge in diabetes is a cause for major concern. “There are 36.7 million people with diabetes in the world today, 335 million adults, and that number is expected to rise to more than 50 million by the year 2035.”

Canada is ranked number three in the top five countries in North America, behind number one USA and number two Mexico, with diabetes, and the prevalence of the disease, much higher in aboriginal communities than the population at large.

The two day Mino Gwekwaadziiwin conference sought to be a first step in turning that tide around. It might seem like an insurmountable challenge to accomplish that goal, but Dr. Darryl Tonemah Ph.D. and author of ‘Enhancing Behavioural Change in Patients with Diabetes’ was there to make it clear that by making some simple changes in lifestyle and taking things one step at a time, huge changes can take place.

Throughout the two days, elder and community wellness worker Dorothy Kennedy Wassegijig delivered prayers and invocations to maintain the spiritual level of the holistic approach to dealing with diabetes.

The conference featured Manitoulin Diabetes display booths, sign-up sheets for reflexology with Jaguar Spirit and seated massage with Barb Recollet.

Dr. Christine Meikleham, of the diabetes-led clinic at the Wikwemikong Health Centre, was the first guest speaker on Thursday followed by diabetes nurse Colleen Mailloux, who took participants through the use of a diabetes daily planner.

Mike Jon Peltier, a physiotherapist assistant, and Darlene Wemigwans, assistant activity coordinator with the Wikwemikong Nursing Home, introduced the therapeutic power of the use of Thera-bands and chair exercises.

Resources are all well and good, but their efficacy is severely hampered if nobody knows about them. An introduction of the Community Health Primary Care (CHPC) staff and the Community Health Representative (CHR) and the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative (ADI) programs was followed by a presentation by Gail Shawande, community health representative.

Practical approaches to developing healthy habits got off to a good start with a presentation by community health representative Sarah Odjig, while Ms. Shawanda introduced some delicious ideas presented by Michelle Lim, a registered dietician with the Sudbury and District Health Unit, and Natalie Hastings, a registered dietitian at Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, as they delivered a crockpot cooking demonstration.

Debajehmujig Theatre Group artistic director Joe Osawabine helped close out the first day with an introduction to the community-based theatre group’s diabetes documentary.

The second day of the program was largely dominated by Mr. Tonemah’s presentation on behavioural change, although a reprise of the Thera-band and chair exercises helped keep everyone reasonably limber through the day.

“All types of diabetes are on the rise,” noted Ms. Akiwenzie. “We have to find a way to turn this around because of the severe impact that diabetes has on the community and people’s lives.”

“There is a reason people have the behaviours they do,” said Dr. Tonemah. “As therapists it is critical to realize that our clients were not born just outside our doors before they walked into our office.”

It is in understanding the roots of behaviours that one can find many of the solutions to changing those behaviours around to something that will bolster health rather than contribute to health challenges.

Changing behaviours is not easy, but it can be done. “Everyone is motivated for whatever behaviour they are doing, so if it is an unhealthy one, maybe it’s because of something and we shouldn’t just assume that we can say the magic words and that behaviour is going to change.”

Magic words or no, Dr. Tonemah seems to have the knack for galvanizing and encouraging people in behaviours.

“You should see him with the kids,” said Ms. Akiwenzie, who explained that Dr. Tonemah had spent the previous day working with children at Pontiac and Wasse Abin schools. “He told them that youth need at least half an hour of activity, took them through 10 minutes of activity and then said, ‘there, now you only need another 20 minutes’.”

Although physical activity is important for adults dealing with Type II diabetes, creating healthy lifestyle behaviours in young people could be the key in preventing its onset later in life.

Michael Erskine