Leon Thom and Michael Watkins

with Rose High Bear

Arlie Neskahi: In today’s Health and Healing, Rose High Bear looks at diabetes prevention programs in interviews with Grand Ronde elder Leon Thom, and Michael Watkins, health director at the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

Michael Watkins: About two years ago, I was able to attend a tribal head start graduation where a nephew of mine was graduating…

Rose High Bear: Michael Watkins is  executive director of health administration for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde community.

Watkins: …one thing that really stuck out to me during that graduation were how many children in our head start program were obese and were on the road already to developing diabetes.

High Bear: Obesity is the first stage of early onset diabetes.  So the Tribe empowered health promotion specialists within their diabetes and wellness programs to make regular visits to head start classes.

Watkins: Teaching them the right food to eat, the wrong foods to eat, nutrition, and really getting them to look at moving and exercising and doing it in a fun way. And that has been a big success.

High Bear: In this close-knit tribal community, no child goes unnoticed.  The health department became aware of one head start boy, who, at six years of age, weighed 160 pounds. So improving the health of this boy became a tribal project.

Watkins: We were able to bring several of those departments together and the local school district into developing a plan for the young gentleman, which included some regular exercise both outside of the school setting where one of the school district staff actually took him out of class and did some fitness things through the day.

High Bear: The tribe also bought the boy a tricycle and enrolled him in regular swimming lessons with his family.

Watkins: He had lost 30 pounds, and his energy level had come up, and his actual overall actual health condition had really improved.

High Bear: Grande Ronde health programs are designed to reach people of all ages using various tribal services.   Leon Thom, whose mom was Kalapuya and dad was Umpqua and Rogue River, developed diabetes and asthma 16 years after he had retired.  It is easy for some to become discouraged and give up hope, but not Leon Thom.

Leon Thom: For a while, it kind of stopped me there, and just a little while.  I’m going to say five or ten minutes. If you let it get you for 8 hours, or for 24 or 48 hours, then I think you are going to go into a depression.

High Bear: Leon Thom is blessed with a positive attitude.

Thom: I didn’t let it get a hold of me. Some people say, I heard them say over and over, I just can’t do it.  It just doesn’t taste right. But I’m telling you, you throw the word “taste” out of your vocabulary and out of your mind, and just do it, whether you like it or not.  One week, two weeks and you will be fine.   You have to be positive in your mind, whenever you look at your plate, and say, “This is my healing process. If I stay with this, I’m going to be fine.” There is no such a thing as “you can do it on your own.”  You have to have help.  So my advice to people is as soon as you find you are diagnosed with diabetes, or any particular disease, is to get help immediately.

High Bear: But it does take discipline.  To the Grand Ronde, a healthy lifestyle involves the whole community and the whole person.

Thom: The thing is I accepted it.  I didn’t have any desire to give up – more of an incentive to go and battle it.  Once you learn how to understand discipline and practice it, that is the most important battle.

High Bear: For Wisdom of the Elders, this is Rose High Bear.