Overcoming the negative is topic at Journey of Hope Conference

By Ken Luchterhand

More than 270 people attended the 13th Annual Journey of Hope Conference, held Oct. 2-3 at the Ho-Chunk Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells.
The purpose of this event is to educate tribal members of all ages with diabetes prevention related information. It also gives tribal members direct access to Ho-Chunk Nation Health staff for two days. During this time, they can share their stories of health, voice their concerns, and become informed to better their own health.
 “This year was different in that we were focusing on the tough topic of overcoming the negative effects that historical and generational trauma can have on our bodies,” said Health and Wellness Coordinator and Diabetes Prevention Manager Sara Peterson, who has been in charge of the conference for the last three years.
“This year (Exercise Physiologist) Kathleen Clemons brought the idea to the table that we focus on moving past all of the trauma and work towards healing, not only our bodies, but also our minds and spirits,” Peterson said.
The conference is always a collaborative effort put on by various staff throughout the Ho-Chunk Health Department.
Keynote sessions were on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) by Christine Smith; Forgiveness by Diane Little; Four Aspects of Health by Cari Ritter; and Let’s Talk About Diabetes by Chris Frederick and Kathleen Clemons.
“People enjoyed the breakout sessions because they were interactive and offered them with the opportunity to speak about their own personal stories and struggles with their own health,” Peterson said. 
Breakout sessions included a Quick and Healthy Food Demo by Kathy Braaten and Heather Jersak; Health and Wellness Family Feud by Rachel Montana and Lyndsey Killian; Mindful Walking by Kathleen Clemons; Warriors at Ease by Beth Smetana; Diabetes Management Through Diet and Exercise by Jess Artz; Healing Visions by Sara Peterson and Rachel Montana; Commercial Tobacco Cessation and Mealtime Insulin by Hussain Harun; and Solving the Exercise Puzzle by Chris Frederick.
In the Healing Visions breakout session, those in attendance could ask questions, raise concerns, and speak their minds about all aspects of diabetes.
“My favorite part of this event is sitting down with people and listening to what they have to say. I enjoy being able to hear from so many people from all over Wisconsin. They share information with my staff and I. We can take that information back to the office with us to improve what we are doing with the Health Department,” Peterson said.
“Being able to take requests and opinions from tribal members and turn those ideas or statements into action and programs is amazing. A good example is at the 2017 conference we had a huge request from tribal members wanting Tai Chi classes. After reviewing the evaluations and seeing this request, all of the exercise physiologists have been trained in Tai Chi and are certified to facilitate Tai Chi classes,” she said.
Before the breakout sessions, the keynote speakers had important messages for attendees concerning dealing with diabetes and life’s ups and downs.
Christine Smith referred to a lot of childhood trauma which shows up later in life and may never leave a person. She said that stress shows up in the physical form sometimes, making people frequently ill and resulting in time off work, which compounds the stress.
Stress can have devastating results on people with diabetes.
She identified the term “neuroplasticity,” which means to achieve a new ability, physical or mental, by creating new neural pathways.
“It’s like creating a pathway through the forest. It takes many trips over the same ground before a pathway has been formed to permit easy travel,” Smith said. “The same with new skills or habits in life.”
Included in changing those new pathways are new forms of self-talk, meaning the way we send messages to ourselves. Negative self-talk leads to more illnesses, anxiety, depression, and suicide.
“The shame of being Indian is the number one killer of self-worth,” she said. That shame needs to be eliminated in order for a person to improve mentally and physically.
She has first-hand knowledge of such self-talk since she is undergoing a personal journey. Her mother was taken away from her family, raised by a white family, and learned the white people’s ways. She said that she learned from her experiences and not to look negatively about it. Those experiences are what made her who she is and she wouldn’t trade those experiences, good or bad, for anything.
Another speaker, Diane Littel is Ojibwa, part of the Menominee tribe. She grew up in predominately-white neighborhoods in Milwaukee where domestic violence was ever-present.
She spoke about the need to forgive people and not continually carry those burdens around. The anger destroys the person who is angry, she said.
“Forgiving is not an easy thing to do. Most anxiety stems from something that happened to that person as a child hanging on to a terrible incident,” Littel said.
She referred to the movie, “The Shack.” It is about the main character struggling with the idea of forgiving an unforgivable act – the killing of his young daughter. He had to learn to forgive because it was killing him. His anger had ruined the relationships with his wife and other children. He was asked, “Who are you to judge?”
“Forgiving others and self-forgiveness is part of what was meant to be – the fabric of who we become,” Littel said.
So often people attempt to hold on to the past and are afraid of new beginnings, even if it is destroying their lives. She gave an example of a woman who needed to leave her abusive husband, but she kept hanging on in the hopes the situation would get better. But it never did.
“Sometimes we get a wakeup call to get away from a toxic situation,” she said. “That opportunity opens up to get you out of the situation. When the door opens, you need to go through the doorway. It is a meant-to-be situation – part of the journey.”
She suggested letting out any bad memories or anger by letting them go in a physical form. Some people write in a journal, then burn it or put it in water to wash it away. Some people put the written words by trees and let the words be taken by nature. Some people will attach them by balloons and let them go. In any form, the release of those bad thoughts is cathartic and allows the people to let them go.
“Be thankful for the challenges because they are part of life and they become blessings. We can’t become the people we are without going through those difficult and challenging times,” Little said.
During another session, Clemons provided a breakdown of body part affected by diabetes.
Her main message she wanted to project is “Complications are preventable,” and had everyone repeat the message periodically through her session.
Eyes are the first things to be affected by diabetes, along with kidneys. Kidneys can be damaged, which is evident by testing to see how much protein is in the bloodstream and urine.
“The kidneys are like coffee filters,” Clemons said. “If you get a tear in the filter, you will see coffee grounds in the liquid coffee. Similarly, the kidneys will allow the protein to pass if they are damaged.
Heart disease is another affliction that is affected by diabetes. She stressed a low-fat diet, exercise, lessening stress, no smoking, and a reduction of sodium in the diet.
Feet are another part of the body affected by diabetes, in particular, developing neuropathy or dead tissue and nerve damage.
Nausea and bloating can be the result of gastroparesis, which is damage to the nerves going to the stomach.
Lastly, Clemons talked about teeth and gum damage due to high blood sugar, offering bacteria the substance they need to thrive.
Lt. Commander of U.S. Public Health Service Cari Ritter spoke on the Four Aspects of Self. She works at the House of Wellness as a health educator.
The four aspects are the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. She emphasized the need to give enough attention to the whole person, which includes all four of those elements.
“Life needs are a circle,” she said. “One aspect leads to the other.”
She gave the example of a person who has bad emotional health with negative feedback to himself or herself. Those negative thoughts eventually turn into sickness and poor health, which promotes bad mental health and spiritual health.
She requested each person to take a piece of paper and divide it in half. On the first half, people wrote down the positive aspects of living healthy. On the other half, people wrote the negative aspects of living unhealthy. The result is that people had a lot more items listed on the negative half.
“It’s easier to list the bad thoughts,” Ritter said. “To have positive outcomes requires positive feelings.”
She encouraged people to work with their hands to ease their minds, such as adult coloring, puzzles, and journaling to allow the mind to relax and have good thoughts.
Peterson said the conference is a good way for people with diabetes to become aware of the subject, socialize, and know that they can lead happy, productive lives.
She said the Journey of Hope Conference has been in existence for 13 years.  During the designing of the first conference, the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislators and leadership implemented what is known as the “Journey of Hope to Beat Diabetes Resolution.”
This came as a part of the Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Health Establishment and Organization Act of 1995. The act outlined the following priorities: 1) Development and implementation of programs that utilize traditions and values of the Ho-Chunk People, 2) “Fosters holistic approaches to service delivery”, and 3) “embraces the concept of health promotion and disease prevention.”
“It is important to remember where we came from as a program in order to better understand where we are going in the future,” Peterson said.  “On a daily basis my staff is always approached with the same dilemma, how do we make people want to change their lifestyles?
“The answer lies within the question. We cannot make people do anything that they do not want to do. We are merely a resource for those people that have decided that they want to make positive changes in their lives,” she said. “This conference is a resource that they can attend and have their questions answered, learn more tools on how to achieve their health goals and, hopefully if we have done our jobs properly incorporated some culture as well.”
Peterson’s staff has worked tirelessly to coordinate the event and she wants to express her gratitude for their efforts.
“I would like to thank Steve Garvin for being the emcee, being a ‘graduate’ of our programs and lost a bunch of weight and is now living a healthy lifestyle. I would like to thank our drum and singers, Iron Voices, for blessing us with their talents. I would also like to thank all the speakers for sharing their knowledge with all of us,” she said.
“Most importantly, we need to thank the participants that attended the conference. They are the ones that deserve a standing ovation for being committed to their health and being a positive role model for others,” Peterson said.