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Delores George & Evelyn Umtuch

Ernest Whatomy

Ernest Wahtomy

Ernest Wahtomy

Arlie Neskahi:
Today, one in seven Native Americans suffer from type II diabetes. Diabetes is an inability of the body to process insulin, a hormone that allows blood sugars to enter the cells and be used for energy. The disease leads to kidney failure, blindness, amputations and death. Although there is no cure, the good news is: diabetes can be controlled. In today's Health and Healing, Rose High Bear introduces us to a person who has met the challenge of diabetes and shares his experiences.

Rose High Bear:
Since time immemorial, Native people have maintained a healthy lifestyle by gathering and using their traditional foods. Today’s epidemic of diabetes in Native peoples has resulted in part from a change from this traditional diet to one based on processed foods, sugars and fats.

Ernest Wahtamy:
The first symptoms that came on is dry mouth. It was a thirst, undying thirst. I couldn’t drink enough.

Rose High Bear:
Lemhi Shoshone Ernest Whatomy is the quiet and good-natured head of maintainance at Sho-Ban High School in Fort Hall, Idaho.

Ernest Wahtamy:
I had an epiphany on that day, two years ago. Come to be tested and found out I was full blown. I guess I was in my own world, but in denial still.

Rose High Bear:
Fear and denial are natural and common reactions to any diagnosis of disease. Ernest describes the symptoms that affected him as he discovered he was diabetic.

Ernest Wahtamy:
It was Christmastime. I ate oranges to just take the dryness out of my mouth. Drank a lot of water. It was becoming worse. With all the ingestion, all these fluids washes out of you.

Rose High Bear:
Medication is often proscribed to help get the symptoms under control. For Ernest, the pills he took affected him in negative ways.

Ernest Wahtamy:
It made me feel like my teeth were hurting, my gums were hurting. It made me feel like I wanted to pull my teeth out. But then with the pills, I went beyond that with my wife’s help. I really truly bless her heart. Anna Wahtomy, she’s helped me overcome it. Took me off the pills. I’ve tested good. I’m living now beyond that of living a lifestyle of true Natives of this continent here, this Turtle Island. She knew about it because her mom’s also in that condition. So she understood what was going on. She monitors me and she is the one who really helped me through this really hard time.

Rose High Bear:
Research shows that eating lower fat, fibre-rich foods can help delay the onset of diabetes. Ernest’s return to a more traditional diet has made a big difference in his diagnosis.

Ernest Wahtamy:
Dried, dried salmon, dried fruits, the pine nuts, the bighorn here. All the roots that are in the valleys here. A lot of traditional foods but also put on the BRATT diet, bran, rice applesauce, apples, fruits of that nature and whole wheats.

Rose High Bear:
Keeping active and exercising is an important part of a daily health plan for anyone. Ernest’s return to cultural activities helps him remain active and successfully maintain his diabetes program.

Ernest Wahtamy:
Gathering our wood, our own natural roots out here. Hunting, a lot of fishing, a lot of natural oils here, a lot of trading, like we said. A lot of visiting. A lot of the wild rice that comes from the Northwest. Good good foods out there, natural things.

Rose High Bear:
Ernest has come to accept that diabetes is a part of his daily life. He realizes he is fortunate to have caring medical providers, the support of his family, and cultural traditions that help him gain control of his life and his diabetes.

Ernest Wahtamy:
You can overcome it. You can prevent it. Our creator gave us this life. Our mother earth has given us these foods to live. Use them. Use them wisely. Don’t abuse it.

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