The Effect of Diabetes on Our Native Nations

I appreciate all the warm wishes for my family, as we grieved the loss of my uncle.  My uncle Wil, was a father figure to me, he was the one I looked to for guidance on many things that went on in my life. We talked all the time, once I waited almost 2 1/2 weeks to call and he called me at work to see if I was okay.  I was shocked he was calling me at work, thinking something was wrong, quickly realizing he was worried about me.  That was the type of person he was, very caring and although on the exterior he might have looked like a grizzly bear, he was a teddy bear at heart.

One time when I was home for the summer, it was my birthday and I wasn’t expecting anything, as we didn’t have much money.  We barely had enough for food, much less any birthday stuff, so I didn’t say anything about my birthday.  I think at one point all we had to eat was tortillas, some cheese, a bag of beans and a can of that commodity chicken in a can.  I remember my uncle opened up the can, put it on a plate and said it was time to eat… ahhhh what you do for a hungry belly.

So, here it was my birthday, I think it was my 19th and he pulls out a cake for me.  A store made cake and I couldn’t believe it.  I started to get teary eyed, wondering how much it cost and my uncle holding that cake saying “happy birthday”.  I know he loved me, he wanted to make sure that I had a good birthday, I will never ever forget that one.

My uncle was a cross-country and track runner in high school, he always talked about running, so when I started to run, he always ask about how I was doing and give me advice. He had all my pictures of me in my uniform, both high school and college and he still asked how I would do at my local races.  But, he was a diabetic now and he was now bigger than when he ran.  He had to inject insulin daily and I know it was taking a toll on him.  When I started my project on looking at American Indian diabetes stories in the mainstream media, I would talk to him about the stuff I was finding out.  I know he was listening, he was reading a book on diabetes, he had started logging exercise he was doing.

My kids loved their Grandpa Wil, I couldn’t wait for my son to spend time with him so he could learn all the Acoma songs they sing at our ceremonies.  That is what is gone now, an elder to pass that information down to the next generation who has left us far too soon.

I feel there is a ticking time bomb silently going on within our tribal communities, that we can stop, we have to stop.  I don’t want our people to lose our elders, people we love, too soon.  We have to support one another to do this.  Recently the Lawrence Journal World newspaper (Lawrence, Kansas) ran a story about the research Dr. Teresa Lamsam and I did this past summer at the Native American Journalists Association conference.  That article written by reporter Aaron Couch has made Dr. Lamsam and myself think about our next phase of our research.  We are planning on launching a site with our information we are finding out from the research we have conducted and will be conducting.  The amount of contacts we are getting from the story is amazing and shows what journalism can do by engaging the audience.   We will keep you all updated on our project and if anyone again, wants to be involved with writing a first hand account of what you are doing to combat diabetes in your community please email us.

I know my uncle is proud of me, I know he is always with me, but, there are days when I wish he was here to tell me one more story, sing one more song, I miss that the most.


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