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Delores George & Evelyn Umtuch

Delores George and Evelyn Umtuch

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Arlie Neskahi:

It’s no secret that Americans are getting fat. In 1999, 34% of American adults were overweight and an additional 30% were obese. And the rate is increasing. More than twenty million people in America have type II diabetes. In Native America, there are even greater rates of obesity, and an epidemic of diabetes. In today’s Health and Healing, Rose High Bear explores the struggle against the disease for two brave women of the Yakama Tribe.

Evelyn Umtuch:
When I was younger, I used to weigh three hundred, sixty-nine pounds.

Rose High Bear:
Registered nurse, Evelyn Umtuch is a diabetic. She knows first hand the root causes of obesity and the struggle her people face.

Evelyn Umtuch:
I came from a poor background. We ate just what we could and Grandma never allowed us any pop or ice cream, or candy and that kind of stuff. So we just lived off the land and Gramma raised cows and that’s just how we lived.

But ah, after I got married it was like turning a couple of kids loose in school, my husband and I, because we found out we could make our own banana splits. We could do all kinds of stuff that we never ever, ever had before. So then we just both gained weight.

So one day I was sitting in the chair, I was at home by myself. He had just gone to work. And I was sitting in the chair and I looked down and I was hanging over. And I couldn’t believe that was me, and I sat there and bawled. And while I was crying he walked back in. He had this feeling about it, he came back in, and he said, “I knew I had to come back, but I don’t know why.” And when he came in we sat down and talked. And he says, “Well, I’ll go on a diet with you.”

Rose High Bear:
Over the ages, Native Americans adapted to a feast or famine way of life by developing a slower metabolism and a tendency to store fat. Now, with today’s lifestyle of less activity and abundant food, the result is an obese population.

Evelyn Umtuch:
First he took away my Pepsi. That was murder. Then he took away my Snickers. And that was a killer. Like every two weeks, we’d take something away. And then he brought a saucer one day and he said, “Whatever goes in this saucer is, that’s what you’ll eat.” And that’s how I started losing weight.

Rose High Bear:
Delores George is an active sixty five year old Yakama elder, a medicine singer, and traditional artist who is blessed with a positive attitude. When she was diagnosed with diabetes in 1985, she weighed 260 pounds.

Delores George:
People talk about alcoholism. Well, food can kill you too, if you don’t eat the right things. I didn’t join any weight club or anything. I just changed how I thought of food and what I ate. So I switched over to fresh fruits, sugarless drinks, fresh vegetables, everything was baked or broiled. And so, I think it was a year or so, I lost over a hundred pounds. I couldn’t believe it was like having a rebirth in life, you know.

Rose High Bear:
Unlike Delores, Evelyn Umtuch’s battle with diabetes started in her own mind.

Evelyn Umtuch:
But it was quiet a shock to me. I wouldn’t admit it. I was in complete denial. And I went to the clinic and I talked to Dr. Hadaka. And he brought my chart in and slammed it down in front of me and said, “Okay Umtuch. Let’s come to some truths here. You have diabetes. Just face it.”

And so I looked at it a long time and I just nodded my head. I think that was the day I really started to accept it.

Rose High Bear:
As diabetes coordinator, Evelyn sees the growth of the disease among her people. The denial that she experienced frustrates her efforts to care for the people who need it.

Evelyn Umtuch:
I figured we were getting like six people every month, on the average being diagnosed with diabetes. And there’s probably a lot more out there.

Evelyn Umtuch:
I think that prevention probably is the biggest thing. And we have to start with the young. As a grandmother and a mother, it’s up to me to teach my family. They need to be aware that if they keep moving, they can bring their blood sugars down. That’s the theme of our Diabetes Program, as a matter of fact is, “Keep Moving.”

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