The Grand Council of the Crees

Remarks from Grand Chief Matthew Mukash At the 1st Cree Regional Diabetes Conference, Mistissini, Quebec

Remarks from Grand Chief Matthew Mukash At the 1st Cree Regional Diabetes Conference, Mistissini, Quebec

Posted: 2006-11-29

Wachiya, nee Grand Chief Matthew Mukash. I would like to welcome you all to the first Cree Regional Conference on Diabetes prevention in Eeyou Istchee. It is nice to see many familiar faces here in support of this conference and in recognition of the epidemic of diabetes our Nation is facing.

I am proud as I look around, I see a great number of people who have come together to make a difference, and tackle one of the most challenging health problems we have had. Together, unified as people, organizations, and communities we can determine what we each can do to overcome this problem.

Before I share a few thoughts with you on diabetes, I want to first thank each one of you for coming. I would also like to extend my appreciation to the Cree Nation of Mistissini's local public health department and the Cree Health Board's public health department for organizing and hosting this conference. It is no small thing to prepare and plan a conference of this magnitude, so I wish to take this moment to thank everyone for all of the time and work they put into this event.

Diabetes is a serious challenge faced by Eeyouch throughout our Nation. We are all at risk for diabetes and the complications that come from having diabetes. Many of us are living with diabetes and are learning to live healthy by changing our lifestyles and choices. We all have family members and friends who have diabetes, and in some cases we know people who have died from diabetes or suffered the serious complications it may cause.

Our grandparents and ancestors were healthy living off of the land. Their wellness was based on their spiritual and physical attachment to their environment. Today, there exists a gap in the attachment we once had, due to the changes in our modern day lifestyles. We have changed from hunting on snowshoes and paddling in canoes to using skidoos, outboard motors and vehicles. Our once very active daily routines are replaced by more office oriented work. The gifts that make our lives easier, are the also causing us to have health issues. We should try and make an effort to compensate for these changes in our daily lifestyle by perhaps adding some exercise to our activities.

The food we eat and our daily diets has also changed. Our parents and grandparents taught us that our food is our medicine. We need to keep Eeyou food a part of our diet and integrate it with other healthy food choices. Nowadays it seems to be more convenient for people to eat fast food or processed foods. In combination with the decline of daily physical activity, our Nation is now experiencing a population that faces issues of obesity.

What can we do as a Nation to stop this epidemic?

At first glance, these problems seem overwhelming. We do need to make changes in our lifestyles, but we also need to come up with solutions that fit and work with our present every day lives. Together we can make small changes to improve our health and the health of the nation, as we are doing here today.

Individual changes means asking ourselves, "how can I help myself?" We need to make sure that we take care of our health, so we can have good lives and contribute to the lives of others. Improving your life can influence those around you. Walking to work every day or walking to the grocery store can impact your health and serve as an example in your community. This is just one example, but there are many things you can do to influence your environment. Helping yourself helps your community. Lead by example.

Change for our communities can start small. Showing interest and support, getting involved in any sort of committees that deal with the health of our Nation are all ways in which people can contribute. Volunteer to make our Nation a better place to live in, for our generations alive today and for all future generations to come.

I have heard people say that projects of this size need large amounts of money to start. I would suggest that the focus of this plight not be on what we need to make things happen, but what we have and how we can use that to be more efficient and produce outcomes that have relatable results. Each year we have our annual goose hunt. When we go goose hunting, each person has a role. Men hunt, women take care of the camp, we teach our children and grandchildren their roles. When everyone does their work, we have a good goose hunt. We can relate this back to something like diabetes prevention, working together as one big family.

The goal of this conference is to develop a Regional Action Plan to prevent diabetes in Eeyou Istchee. This means involving Cree entities, using our recreational facilities and the human resources available in Eeyou Istchee, as well as the beautiful land we are blessed to have around us. We have the Grand Council of the Cree, Cree Regional Authority, the Cree Health Board, the Cree School Board, Chiefs and Councils, Day Cares and local public health departments and wellness centers. We have valuable resources in our elders and youth, the contributions of our local businesses and recreational facilities/departments. We have our people. We have our land, Eeyou Istchee.

I believe it is a balance that we should be seeking. The medical models encourage us to view our health from a disease-oriented perspective. We need to remind ourselves that we have the answers. They lie in our culture, our knowledge, our land and our people. Creating a balance by taking the knowledge of our traditional medicines, nurturing our mental and spiritual health, and incorporating physical activity are all needed to live healthy lifestyles, diabetes or not. This conference will give us the opportunity to develop programs for our elders, parents, youth and school children. We will develop physical activity programs, and healthy eating programs that can be delivered at our schools, arenas, at our homes and work place, or wherever we decide. At this conference, we need to decide and plan how we will take better control of our health and build a proud, healthy and strong Cree Nation.

Congratulations again to all of you for coming here to Mistissini and sharing your ideas, showing your support, and making the first, but not the last, Cree Regional Diabetes conference on the prevention of diabetes a success.


Grand Chief Matthew Mukash