Guest Article – Facing Diabetes in a Native American World

Posted By Jamie K Oxendine January 4th, 2013 Last Updated on: January 4th, 2013

Facing Diabetes in a Native American World 

by Judy Anderson

“Facing Diabetes in a Native American World” is the result of an experience of a Native American man with Diabetes and his struggles physically, financially, emotionally and socially. Out of his fight to take back his life, was born a deep desire to inform and educate other Native Americans before they have to overcome all the obstacles and challenges he did. And being Native American, there was also the Spiritual aspect of this debilitating disease to conquer.

When you have diabetes, you are in a battle. Diabetes is a valid enemy and if you don’t conqueror it, you will be conquered. It will take you captive by its destruction and just as someone in prison; your life will be controlled by the disease.

Diabetes begins its attack on the physical body by causing blurred vision which often leads to blindness in one or both eyes. According the American Diabetes Association, there are over 24,000 new cases of blindness reported every year and the statistics are growing rapidly.

Diabetes also causes loss of taste and when food is unappealing there is a lack of appetite that is followed with weight loss and lack of energy. Unfortunately, many people do not take these symptoms serious because they insist they feel fine.

Diabetes is the number one cause of liver damage outside of alcoholism.  The liver damage makes it impossible to filter out toxins thus leading to kidney failure.  This failure causes vomiting and dehydration resulting in an even more dramatic weight loss. As the toxins build up, every system in the body is affected. With kidney failure, dialysis is the only treatment and it is critical for life. Dialysis is expensive, painful, and very time consuming.  It limits activities and locks the person into a life style that is no longer by choice.

Research has shown diabetics are at serious risk of gum disease because they are more susceptible to infections due to a decreased ability to fight bacteria.  This greatly increases the possibility of losing their teeth.

The heart is under tremendous strain by diabetes and can result in hypertension or high blood pressure resulting in heart attacks and strokes. As blood vessels harden, the blood cannot circulate properly carrying the much needed oxygen to every part of the body.  The lack of oxygen then damages the nerves producing anything from a tingling sensation to total loss of feeling in the extremities.  The result is usually amputation of fingers and toes and even entire limbs. This condition is known as neuropathy.

While a person is learning to cope with all the incapacitating and often irreversible physical damages of the disease, they are then faced with the financial struggles of the disease. There are constant trips to the doctor that always requires the services of specialists.  Often the needs of specialists are geographically out of the area of the patient.

When the diabetic has to travel out of town it usually requires overnight accommodations.  There is an added expense for food, gas, and more.  This of course creates wear and tear on vehicles including extra maintenance on all systems of any automobile.

1 Month of Supplies

Medicine, medical supplies and vitamins are also needed along with special foods and the cost of insurance to pay for the medical care. And usually with so much physical impairment, it is almost impossible for a diabetic to keep a job thus making finances an overwhelming situation.

All of this puts more stress on the individual that builds up tension creating a strain on their emotions and relationships. When money is short and needs are many, it can be hard on the entire family of the diabetic. This is not an individual’s disease; it involves and affects the entire family and requires cooperation of the complete family.

As problems accumulate, the psychological defenses and resistance are worn down creating a feeling of helplessness. When someone feels helpless in a situation they think it is hopeless and they want to give up thinking “What is the use in trying?”  Then they try to isolate themselves and often stop communicating with their family and friends by going into a deep depression.  Many diabetics just shut down completely.

But as in any warfare there are weapons to fight the enemy.  First and foremost is knowledge of the disease and its very early symptoms.  Second is seeking and getting medical help.  Third and final is following the medical advice of physicians and making an absolute determination to never give up or quit.

Diabetes can easily become the captor and you are the captured. This is not an easy battle by far.

If a diabetic you must never surrender, instead get mad and take control and fight for your life; you have a right to live healthy.

Everyone, especially diabetics, must practice protecting themselves.  Remember: You must participate in your protection.

Home » Native American Articles » Food » Guest Article – Facing Diabetes in a Native American World

About Jamie K Oxendine

Jamie K. Oxendine, of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, is the Native American Liaison and Education Consultant for Ohio University in Athens. Ohio. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo teaching “Indians of North America” and at Lourdes University teaching “Native American Culture” for the Lifelong Learning Center. A frequent speaker on Native American topics, he serves as the director of the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation in Ohio. As a recording artist, he was three times been nominated for a NAMMY (Native American Music Award).

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[…] to The National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), Native Americans are five times more likely than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States to suffer from […]


Thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt story. I work with National Relief Charities, a nonprofit serving Indian country. A few years ago I was visiting with a Navajo Elder and she began talking about her diabetes. It really stuck with me when she said: “I don’t know what he wants,” as though “he” (diabetes) was some stranger who had invaded and if she just knew what he wanted she’d give it to him so that he’d go away. And I can see how it would feel that way, like something that is not supposed to be there.

I also wanted to share with you that we had an Oglala Sioux woman collaborate with us on a Crow Creek childhood obesity and fitness project. She works in the field of diabetes prevention, and she is an inspiration for a lot of people. She tells her story about assuming diabetes was a given, not preventable, and then about getting her diabetes into balance. I hope you will read it on the NRC blog. Just copy this link into your browser: http://blog.nrcprograms.org/healthy-kids-bringing-balance-to-diabetes/


Thank you for your article. It is bad that you have this going on but so good you are speaking out. I struggle with my children on this issue as I, too, am not only diabetic but also have Primary Biliary Cirrhosis, a disease that struck me in my 20s and runs in my family. This kind of liver disease is common in Cree and Ojibwe peoples, my mother in law diagnosed me before the doctors and she warned of diabetes, alcoholism and gluttony (too much maple sugar).

I am middle aged and still alive because I do not drink or abuse drugs. I do struggle with my diet, especially as the diabetes worsens, the cravings for sweets seem worse. I have been told my life will be cut short because of this. My kidneys and liver and heart all have problems, and I have additional systemic diseases that run with PBC and diabetes to boot. Being a woman, the disease is very bad and women are much more prone to the triggering of this condition and others when they drink. I feel I’m on the down slope now, my docs just try to make me comfortable.

I have seen so much alcoholism in my family to deal with problems many times just not fitting in so well in white culture but feeling there is no where else to go or nothing else one can do. Alcoholism seemed to be a family tradition, which is sad, because it never was, there were better traditions which my family just forgot. What has happened to my family, to the planet I wonder?

I hope that you can still go outside and enjoy the miraculous gift nature is to us, and the healing (in whatever way is right for us) that is there for us all if we just accept it. I wish you the best.


Good Article……..in my family we are all fighting diabetes. It’s a rough road at times.


Nancy, I am sorry to hear that you and so many of your family have this disease. If you log onto http://www.ralphmarcus.com there is a page there called “Links” and you might find help at one of these links to ease part of your load.
My prayers are with you & if I can help you in any way, even if it is just to have someone listen, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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