Journey of Hope provides encouragement for diabetes patients

By Ken Luchterhand

The 12th Annual Journey of Hope Conference provided motivation and information to people with diabetes how to cope with their affliction and how to better their lives.
The conference was held Tuesday, Nov. 14, and Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Ho-Chunk Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells.
More than 280 people were in attendance for the event, 98 of those were tribal members who are not employees of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
“This is really great to see as this means we were able to get the word out to our tribal communities that this event was going on, said event organizer Sara Peterson, Ho-Chunk Nation Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Diabetes Prevention Program. “Our changes, in the way we market our events, are showing a positive response.”
This year’s theme for the event was “Protecting the Generations: A Lifespan Approach to Diabetes.”
“This theme is central to my own beliefs and the foundation that we are laying here at the Health and Wellness Division,” Peterson said. “The best way we can beat diabetes and obesity from overtaking our tribal members is through education, starting at an early age all the way up to our elders.”
Ho-Chunk Nation Heritage Preservation Director Jon Greendeer served as emcee and gave the opening remarks for the event.
The keynote speakers at the opening ceremony, working in tandem, were Waylon Pahona and Paul Roberts, who gave their inspirational talk on Native Resilience.
Afternoon breakout sessions provided diabetes education, such “Making an Easy Breakfast,” Health and Wellness Family Feud,” “Generational Diabetes,” “Don’t ‘Jeopardize’ Your Health,” “Nutrition Bingo,” “Can Exercise Help Prevent or Cure Cancer,” “Warrior Spirit,” “How to Make Natural Lip Balm,” “Food Sovereignty,” “Bend it the Right Way Yoga,” “Healthy Active Natives,” “Anti-inflammatory Herbs,”  “Children with Diabetes,” “Healing Circle,” and “Preventing Suicide in Native Communities.”
In the evening, the Wasira Show was provided, along with an enrichment night, featuring moccasin games, kasu, pinaga, and beadwork.
The Community Health staff displayed information regarding diabetes and the Ho-Chunk people. According to their statistics, there are 642 Ho-Chunk people who have been diagnosed. The diabetes rate has not increased since 2011. Four percent less people were diagnosed this year than a year ago. To help reduce that number, more than 1,300 exercise classes have been provided, along with a community gardens program.
Keynote speaker Paul Roberts said that his life changed at the House of Wellness. Roberts, of Ho-Chunk and Meskwaki heritage, lives in the Baraboo area.
“I was 340 pounds and I could barely walk, let alone run,” he said. “I literally changed my life at the House of Wellness.”
Roberts now is a motivational speaker. For the last five years, he has been telling people about the transformation he has made in his life.
“How many times do we have to figure out who we are and how far we’ve come as a people,” Roberts said. “It’s about helping others achieve this. We need to use our focus on what we’re doing.”
His motivation to change came from a tragedy in his life. He lost a child, which devastated him emotionally.
“The first thing I wanted to do is drink. Instead, I went to the gym. So often, when something bad happens, we want to brush it under the rug. You have the ability to do beyond what you thought was possible.”
Pahona stressed resilience as a means of dealing with stress in people’s lives. He said that he grew on the Gila River Reservation in Arizona as a mix of Hopi/Tewa and Maricopa/Pee-Posh and, at the age of 9, was sexually abused. He also witnessed he father killing a child. In addition, at one time, he had to resuscitate his mother after an overdose. He lost his father and brother to diabetes and, from that, he learned to better take care of his health.
Now, through his many struggles, he is able to tell his mother that he loves her, even though that he wasn’t raised to be able to say or show such affection, but now has overcome that barrier.
In 2012, Pahona won the Indian Health Services award, the “Healthy Innovations Award” for establishing the Facebook page Healthy Active Natives (HAN). Following his passion, he has made health motivational speaking his fulltime career in life. His Facebook page has 70,000 followers.
Kathleen Clemons and Chris Frederick provided some realistic concerns about keeping healthy and how to make following plans easier.
They listed 10 reasons why people don’t follow healthy eating habits, which included lack of knowledge of how to do it, no support, temptation, and stress in everyday life.
The next list was tips on how overcome those obstacles and to plan to achieve those healthy eating habits, which included making an appointment with a dietician, making meal plans ahead of time, and modifying environments to lessen temptations of bad eating habits.
The next graphic Clemons and Fredrick provided was a list of reasons people don’t exercise, which included the time commitment, pain, and inconsistency of commitment.
To counter those concerns, a list was provided to encourage and maintain exercise, such as modifying the environment, adding something pleasant to the routine, such as a TV or book, joining a gym, take exercise classes, and walking in different places such as a shopping mall.
“Negative thoughts kill motivation,” Clemons said. “instead, focus on what you can do. Check your blood sugar and find friends who are supportive. Don’t call yourself a diabetic, but instead call yourself a person with diabetes.”
“The conference went well overall,” Peterson said. “Upon reviewing the conference evaluations, we noticed a generalized theme among them. Tribal members enjoyed the conference and they are encouraged by the work that the Health department is doing. People enjoyed the location of the conference this year.”
As the Health and Wellness coordinator, Peterson and Community Health Director Jess Thill believed it was important to see that the events and programs at a tribal entity.  The breakout sessions were focused towards that theme of “Protecting the Generations.”
“We held breakout sessions on generational trauma and the diabetes. This breakout focused on the diabetes epidemic among Native Americans and how generational traumas played into that. We held a breakout session on “warrior spirit”, a session geared towards increasing the male participation and gaining positive male role models throughout our tribal communities that can be a positive influence to our young men that will be our future leaders someday,” Peterson said. 
The Health and Wellness Division will be working alongside the Ho-Chunk Nation Heritage Preservation and Language Divisions to incorporate cultural teachings into our everyday programs, Peterson said.
“We will be working with many departments within the Ho-Chunk Nation to ensure that we are reaching and educating tribal members of all ages. This conference and this theme was really the initiation of a new approach to the way we fight diabetes and obesity within Community Health.  We are at the beginning of a new chapter in Native American health and are looking forward to the journey.”
Peterson pointed out that, to better understand what Community Health and the Health and Wellness Division is working towards, it is important to understand history of the Ho-Chunk people and the evolution of chronic diseases.
“We, as Native American peoples, have a rich history of healthy food systems and agricultural economies with other tribes this food was directly tied to land, ceremony, family, and spirituality. Native people in poverty were given foods that were high in carbohydrates and sugars, the days of self-sufficiency were gone and this led to the diabetic epidemic in Native Americans,” Peterson said.
“In the 1940s, diabetes was unheard of in the Native American population,” she said. “It wasn’t until the 1950s that the diabetes began to be documented among the Native American population. Yet, the fact that tribal nations endured and survived, some have even thrived, is a testament to their resilience and strength. The changing policies of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s reinvigorated tribal self-governance and its ability to direct its own destiny and that of its people.”