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Full Transcript: Ernest Wahtomy Interview

Ernest Wahtomy – Lemhi Shoshone – Diabetes
October 22, 2004
© Wisdom of the Elders

Health – Diabetes: BRAAT diet and traditional foods; symptoms; recognition of disease; diabetic; program at the school; camas as a food staple; advice to listen to the old stories of the people; effects of medication; lifestyle to control the disease; advice to others with diabetes.

Oral history: Shoshone Round

(Timed using counter on transcribing machine)

Q. We’re rolling, so Ernest, could you let me know, give me your name and tell me when you were born and where you’re from?

(00:20) Well, good morning. My name’s Ernest Wahtomy. I’m forty-four years old. And this is the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

Q. Were you born here?

(00:30) Ah, I was born in Pocatello, Idaho, just south of here.

Q. Were you raised here?

(00:35) Oh, pretty much, ah, pretty much, most of my life. I’d been sent away to ah, Washington area too, and enjoyed the life there. And came back for high school. And from there ah, joined the Marine Corps. Ah, I’ve also returned and then enjoyed my life since um, 1984 on here, until 2004. And it’s, life’s been good.

Q. So that means you missed the Iraq, the first Iraq War then, or were you involved in that?

(01:10) Oh ah.

Q. Desert Storm.

(01:15) Oh, well ah, got out ah, prior to, but was ah, stationed in the States ah, through ah, Lebanon, Beirut ah, Grenada, the unknown stuff I’ve ah, pretty much forgotten now.

Q. The Reagan years huh? Turn off my electronics here. Now our subject is health and healing here. But let me ask you a little bit about your background. We might want to get to this question later, but if there’s a particular element of your traditional Native heritage that has helped you in combating the disease, say your spirituality or another kind of spirituality. I don’t know what your religious affiliation is. But we can talk about that probably down the road.

Okay, that would be fine.

Q. So, why don’t we just get to it. When did you first hear about diabetes? What were your, did you have some misperceptions about it when you first heard about it?

(02:30) Well, first hearing about it would be through my mother. She’s actually had it and she’s passed on now because of complications due to that. My father has not had it so I was pretty grateful for that. He’s a old WWII Army Corps, Army Air Corps, I should say. And I’ve come to know it ah, I had an epiphany on that day, ah two years ago. And it was ah, come to be tested and found out I was full-blown. And ah, I didn’t know what it was. I, I guess I was in my own world, but in denial still. But your body reacts different ways is telling you another way you’re, the realization of nowadays compared to what life really was, in the pursuit of. You know, all our traditional foods. And that’s where I found out, ah. I was out hunting. Hunting elk out here in the, in Island Park area this side of Yellowstone. And it just was bad, very bad. It was beyond my help.

(03:50) So I had um, my wife, she knew about it because her mom’s also in, in that condition. (cough) So she understood what was going on. She monitors me and she is the one who really helped me through this ah, really hard time. Ah, put me on a (cough).

(04:15) (pause)

Q. Can we just jump back this one. So you said it was really bad. What did you mean? What were you feeling?

(04:30) Oh, the symptoms are just terrible. It’s something you would never wish upon anybody. And then if there is a way you can avoid this complications or end up the way, in any condition um, we have been born to this world to not do these things. But the, the way lifestyles nowadays is, it’s just a whole backwards society. Ah, the way we were born is through pursuing ah, fulfilling our needs only for so much. That, that’s, that’s what Creator has given us, and not much more.

(05:20) The way ah, I’ve overcame it was ah, through my wife’s help. I was, I was saying before ah, a lot of traditional foods, but also put on the, the BRAAT diet. That really ah, reinforced then. What that BRAAT diet is a, a bran, ah, rice, applesauce, apples, ah, fruits of that nature and toast, wheat toast. Whole wheats. None of the finer foods ah, I’ve can put away most of, all the nice things in life. It just spoils you. It’s, it wasn’t real for us. But it’s out there and it’s, you shouldn’t do that. It’s just a terrible thing to do.

Q. What are the, how does diabetes, diabetes apparently affects people in all kinds of different ways. So what was the particular effect on you? What was its chief symptoms?

(06:25) Oh, the, the worst terrible is the, your first ah, you’re restricting, you’re restricting your diet. You’re living a lifestyle of the nowadays ah, where reality is we were created on this Earth and put on as a different people. But what the encroachment of a different lifestyle and the enforcement of that and reinforcement, we’ve put away all our old ways. But our elders have come to know that, but ah, in that way our bodies have developed in that style of real life here, in, in our paradise here.

(07:35) With all the traditional foods, that’s what helped me come through this. And I’m living without the pills, without the shots, without taking these monitors or having daily things ah, with the clinics here, the IHS. Or, I know myself now. How to treat my family. And know to let them know this is the style we need to live. And put this ugliness away. But we can see it. We can deal with it. We’ll live without it. That’s the terrible part, is to see it. It’s still encouraged on TV, radio, in our children pursuing that yet. Even though we’ve let them know not to, there’s, it’s a good thing now and then, but not just gorging yourself on it. It will come to you. It will deal with you. There’s no way around it.

Q. I’m trying to find out how it’s affected you. Some it affects kidneys, some, eyes, what is it doing to your body actually? Could you describe that?

(09:15) Okay. The first symptoms that came on is dry mouth. I couldn’t ah, it was a thirst, undying thirst. I couldn’t drink enough. First thing I wanted was, it was ah, Christmastime. We had oranges. I ate oranges to just to take the dryness out of my mouth. Drank a lot of water. It was becoming worse. With all the ingestion of these fluids, it washes out of you. That’s the other, the urine, it’s, it’s just that. It’ll take, it’ll use your body. As, in its natural state, but you’re, the sugar levels are well beyond when you eat oranges. It’s just one of the good things in life that you’re, (laughs) it’s just not that, it’s a crazy thing, but it’s ah, it matters very much. There’s things out there that affect your body.

(10:25) With all those things ah, the onset of it itself, the recognition of it, going through IHS and finally living through trying to avoid that part of myself was recognizing it as, I have this disease now.

Q. Was that real difficult to do?

(10:50) It was um, it was impossible for me. I denied it. I was, I hated the thought of it. But reality is, and that’s what it was. It was a thing that I have I need to take care of.

Q. And so you had dry mouth, and what else, what other symptom?

(11:25) All these things that ah, you ingest in your body has to come out. Frequent urination. And then it affects it your ah, your body. And then once you get through and identify that through IHS, you’re going through their shots, through syst, their system there. I did all that for a short time. I lost a lot of body weight then, due to that. So um, I’ve tested out good. I, they’ve put me on the pills then, after ah, I think it was a couple of months. But then with the pills, I went beyond that with ah, with my wife’s help. I really truly bless her heart. She’s, she’s a good woman, 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.

Q. You mentioned the BRAAT diet, bran, apples, rice and toast. What are the traditional foods that you’ve added?

(13:10) Dried, dried salmon. Ah, well our actual dried ah, fruits, our, the pine nuts, the, the bighorn here. That’s, this is our country here in the Lemhi, in the valley itself. This is where our hunting grounds, the Yellowstone. The, the pine nut people in the Nevada area. And all the roots that are in the valleys here. And there’s a lot of trading that goes on. That’s what we’ve done ah, to overcome this is ah, search out and ask relatives ah, to trade, because these things are, that are needed here. They’ve been put away.

(13:45) And what the ah, I work with the Shoshone-Bannock Junior and Senior High School here. And we have a, a doctor, Ed Galindo. And that’s, that was one of our projects here. And (cough).

Q. Which was? Tell me about that project.

(14:10) That was for the diabetic program, on um, on the outside. It was a, a grant that was proposed, received and adhered to. Ah, we were just in the experimental stage then. And that’s when I come to know that I had it. And so I’ve let him know what I’ve come through. He was here during, before I had it, after I had it. And now I’m clear of it. I’m never going to be clear of it. I can. I know that. My children are, have to avoid that now. And I’ll teach them also as much as I can.

(15:10) (pause)

Q. So the experimental program here at the school, did it look at the effect of traditional food on diet or what?

(15:40) That’s what we were, that’s what this is right here. If you have a picture of it, this is the Shoshone Round, developed ah, by Gisela Goule and ISU ah, Idaho State University here. And that is all our Native foods here. But we’re ah, always adding to it. We’re also developed the, this into the hyper studio program, to put it on the computers, to send these out. But it is alive and well here. And you can use these things. It’s the time to pick these things. When it’s time, or gather themselves. Ah, but you’re restricted in that area, because it comes in seasons. And it’s only there when our Creator allows it and it’s time to be there. If you’re not, well, we’ll, we’ll see you next year.

Q. And it’s probably hard to get access to those places because they’re all closed off.

(16:40) They’re pri, private property. There’re a lot of restrictions. Ah, even their um, the Forest Service themselves. They only allow you to camp three days and then they’ll kick you out of the area.

Q. It’s interesting that you’ve reestablished the trading network again. You said you’re trading for some of these traditional foods.

(17:15) Oh, we’ve been trading a lot longer than before I was born. It’s, it’s, it’s a wonderful thing, go see your relatives again. It’s just ah, good.

Q. So give me an example of that trading for something, say pine nuts or something.

(17:25) Oh, just ah, as we come to find different peoples that you’ll see along the, the powwow trail. Or, or even if we find them on the Red Road here. It, that, that’s our life. That’s the way we live.

Q. So why don’t you name some of these foods. You’ve got the roots and is there any particular food or root or whatever that Lemhi are known for?

(18:15) Oh, this Camas Valley up here. They started a war because of it. In 1878 ah, Chief Buffalo Horn was pretty dissatisfied. Took, took up on us because they allowed the pigs to root themselves in the valley itself. It’s a beautiful place. I’ve been up there. I’ve shown my family the place. And the time to be there, to get, gather. You know why, if you’ve ever been to that place, it’s a, it’s a valley of camas. If you ever know camas, this is, this is the place to come.

Q. Camas is, could you describe that for the listener that would not know what that is?

(19:15) It’s ah, a purple flower. It’s the star flower, purple. It’s a long stem. It’s not a onion. It can be in the spring with the, the, the season itself. It’s a bulb. It’s a nice big bulb because nobody, everybody’s put it away, except for just a very few people that know these things. You can dry it. You can cook it. It’ll, it’s its own natural sugar from that point. And you store it for future. There’s a lot of stories relating to that. That’s the wonderful part about it. It always comes back. The stories come back. It needs to be told again.

Q. And so camas is sort of like the carbohydrate, the potato of this people around here?

(20:25) Ah, the bread. The bread group too.

Q. As you go on and you’re controlling it very well with diet right now. Are there other elements that you do, other things that you do to keep the disease under control?

(20:55) Oh, a lot of physical where. I’m glad I’m have this life to live in to let other people know now that, to stay fit, to put all this, the new, the new ways that have been brought to us. The best thing that can happen is to listen to those stories. They’re telling you something. They’re real. And they have meaning behind it for you to find out. It’s out there. Our place is out there, to bring it back. And to let everyone else know that this in here, it’s for you. It’s to share, carry on from here, from this Mother Earth.

Q. What are the stories that you’re speaking of?

(22:20) From these ah, Elk people themselves, or from the Salmon people, or from the Bighorns, or from the Pine Nuts, the roots, the, the swimmers, the, the crawlers, the, our grass, our trees. Ah, all these relate to each other. We’re only a part of the whole. And once we destroy a little bit of it, it affects the rest.

(20:20) Right now it’s our season is moving up a month earlier now. It’s snow outside. Our salmon have coming earlier. Our steelhead our coming earlier. The snows are coming. The rains, they’re trying to, global warming. It’s a terrible thing to see out there. We have to rely on transportation, but look what we have now. There’s vehicles, exhaust. Terrible environment. We’re hurting it ourselves in our pursuit of happiness. Nowadays it affects a lot.

Q. Is your whole family under this diet now?

(24:05) I’ve brought a lot of ah, salmons. We trade with the downriver tribes also. That’s where my family’s from. My wife’s family is ah, from Celilo, Oregon itself. And her mother’s in ah, in Yakima. We have a lot of friends, relatives, our Nez Perce people. It’s, it’s beautiful place, beautiful place to be at. We can’t forget them. We always make that road to be there with them (cough) to share what we have with each other.

Q. Did you say your wife’s family, or part of your famliy’s from?

(25:05) My wife’s family’s. Ah, my ah, grandmother’s also from Warm Springs area. So they were trapped in the Bannock War of 1878 because of this Camas War, so they ended up here. But my father’s family is also up there in the salmon area. We’re, we’re pretty much related. A lot of, lot of good roads out there. (sound) A lot of happy trails. A lot of good songs.

Q. The Lemhi have been in a good, always in a good position of having Salmon River right over the top of the buffalo, so they had the best of both worlds, didn’t they?

(25:55) Well, it’s just a matter of ah, interpretation of best or good world. We did have, but ah, forced off the top of the mountain itself. It’s not a good thing. We, we can visit it now, but act like we’re ah, trespassing. In other words ah, in, in your society now, it’s terrible thing to look over your shoulder and wonder if somebody’s watching you. And I’ve been getting wood up there in Island Park on this side of Yellowstone, I was saying. And I’ve been stopped on the road and they confiscated my wood, for burning for this winter coming up. We did not give away our rights. But yet they still feel that they had the need to harass or, it’s an ugly feeling. It’s an ugly feeling to live like that.

(27:30) (pause)

Q. So you were talking about the medication you were taking and you didn’t like it. Tell me why.

(27:50) Well, I didn’t like it. I was kind of forced into it by my own will, in my willful ways. But to come to know that I’ve overcome it still. But coming through the pill portion of it, it made me feel like I was inside of me it, 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. It was very bad.

(28:45) (pause)

Q. I think we pretty much got this statement out about the pills. So the medication made you feel so bad that you, how did it come to your mind that you could get rid of the pills eventually and just go through diet up. Is that education from IHS, or was that your own experimentation or what?

(29:40) Well, my wife came through, her as a gestational ah, diabetic, diabetics. Ah, her situation was through her pregnancy. And so we had to deal with it then. With her knowledge then of her mother, dealing with her mother, and I dealing with my mother, of, we’ve combined all the knowledge there. And we’ve actually affected the removal. I’ve gone beyond, beyond that now. I’m, I’m in good health. I’m glad for it. I thank the Creator for this, this life that he’s given us, to let other people know that you can do it. If all of us, we can all survive.

Q. What special exercises are you doing, special exercises like walking, or what’s your favorite way to get that exercise?

(31:25) Well, gathering. A lot of gathering. A lot of gathering, our wood. Our, our natural roots out here. Hunting. A lot of fishing. A lot of ah, natural, the oils here. A lot of trading, like we said. A lot of visiting. A lot of the wild rice that comes ah, from the northeast of ah. Good, good foods out there. Natural things.

Q. So again, just returning to a more traditional way of life. I mean, you’re getting exercise that way as well as diet. It seems like a satisfying continuation of trading relationships and visiting with your relatives and keeping the family traditions.

(32:50) Oh yes. It’s, it’s ah, like we have the Shoshone Round, I was telling about earlier. This is real. This is our way of life here. I wish you could see it. One day ah, we’ll have it on the website for you.

Q. Well we could put it on our website. And we could link it to your website.

Okay, that’d be great.

Q. We have a website too, which we could mention. So maybe tell me a little more about the Shoshone Round that you talk about.

(33:35) Okay. We’re in October right now. The, the salmon are still coming up ah, down on, down on the downriver tribes on the Columbia. The deer and moose, the elk, the bighorns, everything’s coming in season now. The buffalo, this is the time of the year for them. All their robes are really exceptional. And this is the time I should be there also. (laughs) That ah, we’re getting prepared for winter now. All our supplies are still working, drying meats. A lot of ah, dietary needs that we need to take care of and put away for the, for the winter.

Q. So this probably also answers this. Just the biology that’s evolved over the centuries and then thousands of years. These foods also answer bodily needs at particular times of the year. I always notice that during the cold season, that’s when oranges come, or you know, are the best. And I thought, that’s no coincidence. That’s because we need that. So I guess it’s the same with year ’round.

(35:40) Oh yes. It’s, oh it’s great to dry foods and have them ready, ready for your feast whenever, or your giveaways. It’s a lot of celebrations that go on. A lot of visiting. It’s wonderful to see again. To come through all of this.

Q. Well, what would you want to say to others who are, other Native people who are experiencing the same problems? If they had the diabetes, what would you say directly to them?

(36:45) To live the life in a good way. To remember to ask for help. There’s no shame in asking for help. Come to recognize this can be a managed disease. You can overcome it. You can prevent it. You can tell, teach your children our grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ stories. 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.

Q. Okay. Wonderful. Thank you.

(38:30) Well thank you. It’s been a wonderful time.

Q. To face the microphone and talk about these things.

(38:45) End