Home Education High rates of diabetes among Indigenous people drive improvements in BC services

High rates of diabetes among Indigenous people drive improvements in BC services

by Local Journalism Initiative
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Written by Alexandra Mehl, Local Journalism Initiative, HA-SHILTH-SA Reporter

Diabetes educators strengthen culturally safe, Indigenous-led, and accessible services for people with diabetes, as there are disparities in education and health services despite the high prevalence of diabetes in Indigenous communities. You are being asked to do so.

Matilda Atleo, First Nations Diabetes Educator with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), takes every opportunity to educate people about the disease.

“We know that there are people who have diabetes but don’t know it,” Atleo said. “Indigenous peoples are likely to have higher rates of diabetes.”

“Just being Indigenous puts you at risk,” she added.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, “intersecting factors” from historic colonial policies, barriers to accessing healthy and affordable food, as well as a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes, make First Nations people more susceptible to the disease ( There is a high risk of developing type 2).

Diabetes (type 1 and type 2) affects 17.2% of Indigenous people living on reserves, while the prevalence among Indigenous peoples outside reserves is only 12.7%. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the national prevalence is 10 per cent.

Since last fall, FNHA has been working with Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island to develop an island-wide diabetes strategy.

“There are a lot of gaps in service and a huge need,” Atleo said. “Even just consciousness.”

Atleo envisions accessible healthcare where Indigenous people can receive diabetes testing and screening outside of a hospital setting.

“They like to go to places where they feel comfortable,” Atleo said.

Atleo said Indigenous people diagnosed with diabetes don’t receive the education they need in the Western health care system.

“A lot of people are uneducated…they don’t know what they need to do right after they’re diagnosed,” she says. “I would love to see us doing things like traveling and doing screenings in different communities, different areas around the island.”

Atleo said it’s important to have a place where Indigenous people feel safe and have access to services without fear of being shamed, mistreated or not heard. Point out that there is.

“People will be happy to come,” Atleo said. “I think that gives them hope. It says, ‘There’s someone out there who really cares.'”

Rachel Dickens is a nutritionist for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. She echoed Atleo, sharing that diabetes information can be confusing and difficult to access.

In May 2022, 74 Nuu-chah-nulth representatives worked with FNHA and Island Health to develop a Nu-u-chah-nulth-led approach to diabetes, said Rachel Dickens, Tsumsen of Rax K’waraam First Nation. he said.

Since then, a committee made up of Dickens, Ahousaht traditional food advocate Nitanis Desjarlais, and Erin Riding of the Ut Oustukyu Association has been working to combat the disease by linking it to traditional foods and rituals. We organized a diabetes retreat aimed at supporting families suffering from diabetes.

“As far as we know, there are no diabetes retreats,” Dickens said.

“I think the goal of this retreat is to make the information widely available to different generations and make sure this information is passed on within the community,” Dickens said.

As Dickens reflected on the impact of the retreat, she shared some of the comments from attendees.

“I know my worth. I have value. I need to value myself,” she said. “Some people say .125sayd.375, ‘I’ve never gone four days in a row without juice. This is the lowest amount of salt I’ve ever eaten. I feel great.'”

Dickens said the retreat was held over four days, with rituals interwoven along the way. Hunters and harvesters provided traditional foods such as seals, and Ahousat chefs prepared the meals.

“We treated diabetes like family,” Dickens said. “It’s not just the individual, it’s the family that needs to understand.”

Angus Campbell, a member of Ahousat, described the learning that came with a diabetes diagnosis as “overwhelming and frightening”.

Campbell doesn’t always have time to read about diabetes, but when Dickens takes the time to sit down and talk to her about the disease, it makes a difference.

“It took me a while to realize there was a .125 Dickens .375 in there,” Campbell said. “Thanks to her help, the atmosphere seems to have changed.”

“When you have that many people with diabetes, it’s really a pandemic,” Campbell said. “We need people to know that it’s our diets that have gotten us this far.”

Also read: ‘Life-changing’: Diabetics welcome news of treatment

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