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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 14, 2003 - Issue 89


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Winnipeg Troupe Targets Native Youths' Diet

by Michael Hilborn Fort Frances Times
credits: art Berry Gathering by Barbara Lavallee

Berry Gathering by Barbara LavalleeThere is an epidemic sweeping through First Nations youth across Canada—and the toll it takes is devastating.

That's why a group from R.B. Russell Vocational High School in Winnipeg made the trek to the Couchiching Bingo Palace last Wednesday and Thursday to send an important message: your lifestyle is killing you.

Sponsored by the Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Authority, the Diabetes Prevention Theatre Project began as a joint venture consisting of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, and R.B. Russell Vocational High School.

The result is a workshop-play entitled "Make the Right Choice" that is intended to drive home to youth—and First Nations youth in particular—the risks posed by Type-2 diabetes.

According to one of the project's directors, the threat this disease poses to First Nations young people cannot be overstated.

"It has reached epidemic proportions," said Jay Willman, a teacher and co-ordinator of the school's Community Action Program, an award-winning project designed to empower inner-city youth to create positive community and personal change.

"It's reached the point where today, one in every five First Nations youth will have their health severely affected," Willman added.

What was once known as adult-onset diabetes, the Type-2 version now is being diagnosed in native children as young as seven. And the worst part of it is it is entirely preventable.

"The message here is all about healthy eating and healthy living," stressed Willman. "That's what we're trying to make people understand. Type-2 diabetes is totally preventable."

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, First Nations peoples lived a lifestyle that was extremely healthy by anyone's standards.

Their hunter-gatherer traditions gave them plenty of exercise as well as a diet consisting primarily of corn, beans, and squash, supplemented by modest quantities of fish, meat, fruit, and nuts.

Since then, they have picked up many of the bad habits of the newcomers—and are now paying the price for it.

"It's a combination of food and lack of activity," said Willman. "For some reason, First Nations people have been physically unable to adjust to refined sugar in their diets over the last 200 years and the result is obesity and diabetes."

The program consisted of four one-act plays intended to increase awareness of Type-2 diabetes and to develop and promote leadership skills for inner-city youth.

The theme of the four plays was "Follow the path of the eagle"—an obvious reference to the healthier traditional ways of their ancestors. It talked about making choices that ultimately could affect your future and your dreams.

Afterwards, there was a workshop in which the audience, consisting primarily of students from local schools, was encouraged to participate.

The Winnipeg students have been working on this workshop since 2001 and have delivered their message to more than 2,000 children and youth to date.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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