The pleasure of solving diabetes

Michael Johansen
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It's not easy for a busy career woman to find time to exercise - and it's even harder to bring a whole community along.
When Anastasia Qupee, chief of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, tried to organize a school run this fall, she was stymied twice by the weather (one day by a snowstorm and the next by slippery roads) and then by politics (she was called away for a controversial caribou hunt).
The event finally got underway some days ago when conditions allowed. Hundreds of students ran or walked 10 kilometres with her around the community.
Qupee took up running more than a year ago, and it shows. She looks slimmer, more energetic and happier. She's also confident she'll avoid getting an increasingly prevalent disease that is ravaging aboriginal communities at twice the national rate: Type 2 diabetes, once known as adult onset diabetes.
Qupee is one of a growing number of people who are turning away from habits that lead to obesity and diabetes. Like Giant Andrew, who walked from Sheshatshiu to Natuashish last winter, the chief is trying and succeeding to convince more and more people that for their own sakes they should get out on their own two feet and eat more natural and traditional foods.
Diabetes is certainly a serious issue, but as problems go (that is, compared to the many faced by Innu leaders), diabetes is like the change that's as good as a rest. Almost uniquely, it has a clear solution.
By contrast, there is, speaking of traditional foods, the current hunt of caribou in zones that were closed to protect an endangered herd - a hunt which won't solve anything as long as no one is arrested and brought to court on charges the Innu Nation can fight using inherent aboriginal rights. In this case, it's the right to hunt where, when and what they want.
Until that happens, this hunt only serves as a sign of how relations between the Innu and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador have gone from lukewarm to poor.
For two parties that claim to get along - always boasting of their New Dawn agreement - they don't seem to be playing nicely together anymore. When one side in a dispute uses rifles to make a point, that's usually considered a failure to communicate.
Maybe they're not getting along now because all their carefully laid plans are falling apart.
The New Dawn, for instance - which was supposed to herald a new age of co-operation - has already reached nightfall. Even though both the Innu Nation and the provincial government talk like the agreement has been ratified, they've never actually brought it to a vote and they are now busy changing it in an attempt to salvage the wreck.
Many in Sheshatshiu say their leaders are afraid to ask them what they think. They say the leaders are worried they'll find out the majority consider New Dawn too harmful to the environment in allowing more megadams to be built on the Churchill River, and too beneficial to those who negotiated it.
The Innu Nation, they say, has postponed the legally-required referendum indefinitely because it won't risk a clear rejection.
Voters, of course, will eventually get another chance to make their views known when the next set of elections occur, and they'll likely be saying a lot about the many apparent conflicts of interest that occur throughout their political system.
In her position, Qupee shares in those wider problems, but as Sheshatshiu chief, she also has a few of her own to deal with: wild roaming dogs and the imminent loss of fire services, to name two.
In comparison, solving diabetes is not only attainable, but is obviously (based on the big smile that was on her face when she started running with all those happy and excited students) a pleasant diversion for a busy leader.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: New Dawn, Giant Andrew

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Churchill River

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