dark winter nights filled with raging black clouds, and howling
winds, my Grandmother would tell tales of the Windigo. Huge, terrifying,
the Windigo lived at the edge of the community and would devour
the body and soul of anyone who wandered into its reach. As I
grew older, she told me that the Windigo stories she knew had
emerged from times of famine when some people had resorted to
cannibalism to stay alive. For their acts, they were sent away
to the depths of the forest to spend their time alone satisfying
their craving for human flesh and blood.
even as a child, I came to realize that the Windigo did not live
so very far removed from the people. It was among us.. It took its
victims piece-by-piece, starting with the toes then moving upward,
to the feet, then the lower leg, upper leg, until family and Elders
died of things like gangrene, kidney failure, heart attack, and
stroke. The Windigo was very real, only it went by another name,
elevated blood-sugar levels, high cholesterol and blood pressure,
too much weight, smoking, and bad diet rampant in ourselves and
in our families, Indian women face the Windigo in a very real sense
everyday. And just to up the stakes a bit more, research is suggesting
that we may even have a tendency within our genes that invites the
are very aware that Type 2 or non-insulin dependent Diabetes is
seen ten times more often among American Indians than in the White
population. Nationally, almost 21 percent of our Elders have it,
and in some communities, over half the Elder population has it.
More troubling than this is the fact that it is now showing up in
children at an increasing rate, especially those born of mothers
who either had or developed Diabetes when they became pregnant.
me, the favorite part of my Grandmother's stories was when the community
put their skills and experience together to kill the Windigo and
burn his body to ash so that he would never rise again. So too,
I hear similar stories today of how Indian people are committing
their brains and bodies to the eradication of the Windigo called
good part of this story starts with the Tohono O'Odham people who
have lived in the Sonoran Desert near the Gila River, Arizona, since
the beginning of time. For 30 years, they have been gifting the
rest of us with their blood and bodies by participating in a massive
study of Diabetes being undertaken by the National Institute of
Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the
U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Working closely with dedicated
scientists, the Tohono O'Odham have shown us the path to health
that we must take in order to face our own Windigo and reduce it
to ash. We owe it to ourselves and to the sacrifice of the Tohono
O'Odham Nation to benefit from that research by learning how to
prevent and control Diabetes.
are some ways to face the Windigo of Diabetes based on research
among the Tohono O'Odham people.
Take an honest look at your risk factors. If you have any of the
following, consider getting screened for Diabetes.
older than 10 in children, 45 in adults
overweight or obese
a close family member (parent, brother, sister) who has or had
had Diabetes when you were pregnant or being born to a mother
who had Diabetes
to the African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American or
Pacific Islander, or American Indian populations
many people, there are no signs and symptoms for Diabetes. But the
following may signal its presence.
very tired a lot
very thirsty all the time
sick to your stomach a lot
to urinate often
or sores that heal very slowly
or thickened skin with a velvety texture around the neck or
in the armpits (acanthosis nigricans) especially in children
blood pressure and high cholesterol
diagnosed or having a family member diagnosed with Diabetes can
be devastating. Feelings of anger or denial may prevent you from
seeking the help or ignoring the advice of doctors, nutritionists
and family counselors at first. Remember, the first step to controlling
the Diabetes Windigo, is facing it honestly and working it into
a positive lifestyle
a healthy diet that is low in fats, carbohydrates and sugar
as well as alcohol.
smoking to remove further wear and tear on your lungs and heart.
regular exercise to help lower your blood-sugar level, lose
weight and build heart strength.
an optimal weight for your height and activity level
all Diabetes medication exactly as prescribed.
your blood-sugar level regularly and try to keep within a normal
range as much as possible.
your stress levels by working on a positive attitude
care of your body, with a special focus on oral health, eye
care, skin care, foot care, and heart health.
gift of the Tohono O'Odham Nation is also the basis of many wonderful
resources for people with Diabetes. Below is only a sample.
many more brochures, contact,
Diabetes Education Program,
1 Diabetes Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3600 (Please use 9-digit ZIP code)
Phone: (301) 654-3327
Fax: (301) 907-8906
about how the Tohono O'Odham people helped unravel the mysteries
of Diabetes at the following Web site: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/diabetes/pima
contact the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse for a list
of publications at:
Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3560
Phone: 1-800-860-8747 or (301) 654-3327
Fax: (301) 907-8906
American Diabetes Association has set up a comprehensive free information
resource on living well with Diabetes. You can find it at; http://www.diabetes.org
ATTN: National Call Center
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
Your Path to Health is a national public health education campaign
sponsored by the Office on Women's Health within the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services. For more information about the campaign,
please call 1-800-994-WOMAN or 1-888-220-5446 (TDD), or visit the
National Women's Health Information Center at http://www.4woman.gov.
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