When I was seventeen years old, my grandfather lost his lifelong crude battle to diabetes. Just one year later my aunty lost hers to kidney failure. As long as I shall live, I do not believe I will ever forget the first moment I saw their once vibrant face in those cold and unforgiving caskets. I won’t forget their lifeless and defeated hands, or how their pale lips would never utter another joke or speak their rooted Newe Paiute language to their grandchildren. Even though the day of my tuguh’s (grandfather) journey was undoubtedly the worst day of my life, I wish I could relive it just to be with him one more time. Since that moment, I have felt as if all of my grief and longing resides underneath my skin with nothing to relieve the pressure. Diabetes is serious. Diabetes is deadly. To see and experience the devastating impact, it can have on a population, sadly, one need look no further than the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities throughout the nation.
A century ago, all chronic diseases, including diabetes, were practically nonexistent in Indian country. It was not until after World War II that diabetes cases began to be reported by Indian Health Service (IHS) providers. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and IHS show that in some American Indian and Alaska Native communities, diabetes prevalence among adults is as high as 60%. One in six American Indian and Alaska Native adults has diagnosed diabetes—more than double the prevalence rate for the general U.S. population. Grandchildren are losing their grandparents at rapid rates because of this fatal disease. Cultural and traditional practices are beginning to vanish as elders are taken from us at early ages.
I am pursuing my education in the health field to assist tribal communities to overcome these generational barriers. With the continual assistance of programs, and collaborations with local health groups there can be positive change made to the of each and every tribal member. Also incorporating other mortal diseases taking over the health of our people. Awareness, and advocacy of these diseases are crucial to communities, so we are promised a lifetime of wealthy health. The presence of diabetes in Indian country has caused a great deal of pain and hardship and I am committed to helping native communities contain a sense of empowerment and hope for the future in eliminating punitive diseases that are alive and active on all reservations.
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