The decision to form NIDA was an important step forward in addressing the diabetes epidemic that was beginning to unravel in Indigenous communities.

How it started

The Assembly of First Nations declared 1995 as the Year of First Nations and Diabetes. In the same year, the National Aboriginal Diabetes Association (NADA) was formed (now re-named National Indigenous Diabetes Association) as a result of a decision reached at the 3rd International Conference on Diabetes and Indigenous Peoples with active participation of the SUGAR (Strategies for Undermining Glucose in Aboriginal Races) Group. The SUGAR Group played the crucial role of advocating for the formation of NIDA and sought to lay its foundation.

The decision to form NIDA was an important step forward in addressing the diabetes epidemic that was beginning to unravel in Indigenous communities. At that time Noella Depew and Alethea Kewayosh were instrumental in working towards establishing a national Indigenous organization with a mandate to reduce the deadly effects that diabetes was inflicting on Indigenous people, families and communities.

The first planning session in laying NIDA’s foundation was held in a cottage on the shores of Lake Winnipeg near Victoria Beach. The initial planning committee consisted of Noella and Alethea with Cynthia Abbott-Homell, Kerri Acland, Linda Brazeau, and Susan Roe-Finlay. This was the first meeting in which NIDA’s structure; goals and mandate were tentatively outlined. The planning committee soon expanded to embrace more experts from various backgrounds to add value to NIDA’s mandate.

In 1996, NIDA received a grant from Health Canada with in-kind assistance from Manitoba Health to set up an office. NIDA’s first office was at 800 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The first interim Executive Director Linda Brazeau served from October, 1996 to the end of December 1998.

NIDA has since become a very active player in diabetes awareness & prevention in Indigenous communities by providing much needed diabetes resources and information. NIDA has also hosted national conferences to raise awareness of diabetes among Indigenous People and share successes and has partnered with other organizations in support of specific projects aimed at reducing diabetes-related complications.

A chronology of years (1980-1995) preceding formation of NIDA:

  • 1980

    Urban Native Diabetes Support with Addictions Counselling began in Toronto.
  • 1983-84

    Aboriginal Women of Manitoba, Inc. (AWM) under the leadership of Pauline Busch, began addressing diabetes. Interpreters working in hospital at Health Sciences Centre (HSC), Winnipeg in the Native Services Department (now re-named to Indigenous Health) noticed that they were called quite frequently to interpret for patients newly diagnosed with diabetes or for rehabilitation after amputations. The interpreters, myself included, alerted the Aboriginal Women of Manitoba.*Indigenous Services is a support service for Indigenous patients that is offered in the two teaching hospitals in Winnipeg. The interpreters/case workers are also cultural intermediaries who do a lot of support work such as coordinating spiritual ceremonies, arranging for Product of Conception transport (mostly by patient), advocating, generally ensuring that patients’ hospital stay is as uneventful and as comfortable as possible.
  • 1983-84

    In the beginning, the Aboriginal Women of Manitoba, Inc. was the first and only organization that listened to us as we related our experiences and concerns with our patients. The patients we see in hospital mainly come from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and North-western Ontario. The AWM began work by doing a diabetes Survey in the communities. Interest and support for diabetes initiatives was expressed by some communities that had noticed increasing incidence of people living with diabetes.
  • 1984

    Conference “A Traditional Native Approach to Diabetes Balance”, Winnipeg
  • 1986

    Alethea Kewayosh hired in southern Ontario as Native Outreach Worker through the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), Ontario division.
  • 1986-87

    S.U.G.A.R. Group (Strategies for Undermining Glucose in Aboriginal Races) was formed through the Aboriginal Women of Manitoba, Inc. (AWM). The S.U.G.A.R. Group was a networking group whose members changed from time to time. Some members came from the AWM, First Nations communities, tribal councils; Health Sciences Centre Native Services (HSC), St. Boniface Hospital Native Services, Medical Services Branch, Manitoba Health, Mount Carmel Clinic Northern Stores, CDA, Northern Medical Unit, DER Children’s Hospital, other interested individuals, and Aboriginal elders were involved at times.
  • 1987

    Health Care and Cultural Change: the Indian Experience in the Central Sub-Arctic. T.K. Young, Toronto Press. National Native Diabetes Education Working Group initiated by Health Canada. The committee was chaired by Dr. Jean Steckle from Health Canada. Here again, some of the members changed sometimes. Besides Dr. Steckle, there was Donna Lilly, CDA, Cynthia Abbott-Homell (Health Canada), Noella Depew (Manitoba Health), Alethea Kewayosh (CDA at the time), Theresa Harper (CHR – St. Theresa Point, MB), Rosella Kinoshimeg, (Wekwemikong, Manitoulin Island), Dr. Louis T. Montour (Kahnawake), Dr. Irwin Antone, Kathy George, (Six Nations), Shawnee Williams (B.C), Louise Aubrey (HC), Linda Brazeau, Aboriginal Women of Manitoba, Inc., and Native Services, HSC). There was another person from Health Canada by the first name of Penny, a nutritionist, and Madeline, Nutritionist from MSB. B.C. working groups formed. Links with Native American Research and Training Centre in Arizona was established through Alethea Kewayosh (Canada) and Dr. Robert Young (U.S.)
  • 1988

    Southern Ontario Diabetes Group began. Aboriginal Women of Manitoba, Inc. Provincial Assembly resolution was passed, supporting diabetes initiative. The AWM representatives did a presentation about diabetes at the AGM of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).
  • 1989

    Duncan Declaration on Standards of Care and Education for Aboriginal People with Diabetes was written by the National Native Diabetes Education Working Group.
  • 1990

    First International Native Diabetes Conference, Minneapolis, USA At the time that Robert Young from the U.S., and Alethea Kewayosh, Canada, met, they dared to dream that it would be fantastic if our countries would unite to address diabetes in Indigenous peoples, so the seed had been planted for an international conference. Dr. Jean Steckle was instrumental in getting the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of Health Canada to attend the 1st International Conference. It was there, at a meeting with Health Canada (the ADM), Alethea Kewayosh, and S.U.G.A.R. Group members that an agreement was made to fund a diabetes coordinator at the Assembly of First Nations, Ottawa. Assembly of First Nations Diabetes Program was initiated, and Alethea Kewayosh was hired as the first National Indigenous Diabetes Coordinator. It was at this conference that strong contacts were made with the other countries that included Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. We had a post conference meeting; Hawaii expressed concern about their rising statistics in diabetes and asked if the next conference could be held in Hawaii. So the decision was made to hold it in Hawaii in 1993 and our international conferences were beginning to take shape.
  • 1991

    Resolution passed by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) supporting S.U.G.A.R. Group’s diabetes initiative. On-going activities of the S.U.G.A.R. Group included committee and workshop participation, panel presentations, referrals, and networking.
  • 1992

    Aboriginal Clinical Practice Standards was presented to the Canadian Conference on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Atlantic Region of Medical Services Branch hired a Diabetes Coordinator. (Laurie Nicholas).
  • 1993

    National Framework for Diabetes Prevention was initiated by the National Native Diabetes Education Working Group. The 2nd International Conference on Diabetes and Native Peoples was held in Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • 1993

    AWM, S.U.G.A.R. Group and AFN Diabetes Coordinator made a presentation to the AMC expressing concern about diabetes and the need to get information to communities. There was a working agreement to work jointly with the AMC Health Committee re: Outreach Program (coordinator position), however, no funding was obtained for the position.
  • 1993

    S.U.G.A.R. Group and the AMC Health Committee also made an agreement to make a joint bid for the 3rd International Diabetes Conference if AFN Health Commission announced another conference.
  • 1993

    Native Diabetes Education Curriculum was developed in Kahnawake.
  • 1995

    International Conference on Diabetes & Indigenous Peoples was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The S.U.G.A.R. Group members and Alethea Kewayosh, National Diabetes Coordinator, were the main “push” to get the conference in Winnipeg, and planned and supervised this conference, forming the CCPC (Canadian Conference Planning Committee). This conference to date has been the largest of the international conferences held. The S.U.G.A.R. Group hosted the conference jointly with the AFN and AMC. The Canadian Conference Planning Committee members were from: S.U.G.A.R. Group, AFN, AMC, Health Canada, and CDA.S.U.G.A.R. Group, and Alethea Kewayosh, and CCPC obtained the assistance of the AMC to declare “Aboriginal Diabetes Awareness Day” (First Friday in May, yearly).
  • 1995

    S.U.G.A.R. Group and Alethea Kewayosh (as AFN Diabetes Program Coordinator at the time), and CCPC initiated the process to declare 1995 the Year of Diabetes & Aboriginal Peoples through the FIRST NATIONS DIABETES DECLARATION.

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