Published in Indian Country Today in January 2013.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) has just fielded a diabetes awareness and prevention campaign. The project includes a 30-minute video called “Diabetes Is Not Our Way”; 10 short films featuring prominent community members, collectively referred to as “Indigenous Perspectives”; and three public service announcements for television and online use.
The media materials are suitable for any Native community, said CRYP executive director Julie Garreau: “We need to share information and learn from each other to fight this latest threat to our long-term health and well-being.”
CRYP diabetes educator John Finn calls diabetes “a true epidemic” in Native America and notes that its onset is skewing ever younger in tribal communities. The poor-quality federal food program, inadequate health care and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle have taken a toll, according to Finn. He observes that many of Cheyenne River’s children already have conditions more typical of elderly patients, including elevated blood pressure, arterial plaque, enlarged hearts and the like. “These children are at tremendous risk,” said Finn.
How to fix this? Wholesome food and exercise are crucial, at Cheyenne River and throughout Indian country, said CRYP’s wellness coordinator, Tammy Eagle Hunter, shown above with her daughter, 16-month-old Mahbyia Eagle Hunter.
On a recent chilly winter afternoon, Cheyenne River children arrived at the center. Teens in sweatshirts and puffy parkas took carrot sticks and apple slices from a platter as they signed up for the basketball tournament Eagle Hunter was supervising. In an adjoining building, 4- to 12-year-olds colored and painted with the cadre of volunteers the center welcomes from across the United States and around the world. Earlier, they’d played tag in the center’s gym and later would scamper around the new fitness center, with its elliptical machines, stationary bikes, treadmills and weight-lifting equipment.
Over the summer and fall, the little ones plant and harvest in the center’s two-acre garden, making them experts on all matters fruit and veggie. When I asked about favorites, Matthew Bobtail Bear, 7, quickly declared carrots the best vegetable; Rosie White Mountain, 11, voted for raspberries (“watch out for bees when you’re picking them!”); Angel White Mountain, 7, said she loved watermelon; and Rhaiyan Tomko, 12, proclaimed the ne plus ultra of fresh, modern cooking: “Our spaghetti sauce is made with real tomatoes!”
Meanwhile, Alyson Potter, 4, scrutinized my red-and-white Indian Country Today Media Network badge. “P-R-E-S-S,” she said, firmly tapping each letter. “Press!” Alyson is shown left, with her dad, CRYP youth programs assistant Anthony Potter.
Most people—not just children—have gotten the message that eating fruits and vegetables is important, agreed LeBeau, who is the picture of health and just climbed Bear Butte for her 93rd birthday. “It’s soda pop and junk food—all those terrible things added into the good diet—that undermines it and does the harm,” she said. “You can see cases of soda pop—mountains of them— piled high in the aisles of our grocery store. The idea that someone would sell something so destructive to a fellow tribal member—it’s criminal!”
CRYP is eager to share its diabetes-prevention materials, which were funded by the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation and the Lowenstein Foundation; Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development filmed the segments. View the segments on the group’s website, lakotayouth.org, and on the YouTube channel, youtube.co/user/CheyenneRiverYP.
c. Stephanie Woodard; photographs by Stephanie Woodard.