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Delores George & Evelyn Umtuch

Full Transcript for Delores George

February 11, 2005

Health & Diabetes

Changes made in exercise, foods and thinking; eating what you want in smaller portions; singing to express herself and relieve stress for self and others; Medicine Dance as a forum for community support; diabetes was non-existent among the tribe mid-twentieth century; prevalence of diabetes in tribe today; why more kids are becoming diabetic; advice and encouragement for others; replacing fresh meat with other foods based on traditional values; food as a killer; suicidal depression that accompanies diabetes; change is a personal choice.

Q: This is Wisdom of the Elders Health and Healing Segment and we’re going to be interviewing Delores George.  This is the eleventh of February, 2005.  Also sitting here, we’ll interview her later, Evelyn Umtuch, who is the Coordinator for the Diabetes Program here for the Yakama Nation.  Well, thanks very much for coming down to talk to us.  Appreciate it.  I may occasionally jump up and just make a little adjustment here.  Don’t worry about it, I’ll just take care of that.  So could you start by just introducing yourself and tell us a little bit about where you.  Oops got a visitor.  Hold on please.  Okay we’re rolling.  If you’d like to start by introducing yourself, tell us a little bit about where you’re from and your tribal affiliations.

A: Okay.  My name is Delores George.  Um, I’m sixty-five years old.  I was born in Satus.  Um, outside of our home, you know, long ago the elders used to build a tipi outside of the home for the, the birthing was taking place.  So that’s how I was born in Satus, Washington.  I’m a member of the Yakama Nation.  And I’ve got a little bit of blood from the Nez Perce and a little bit of Klamath.  So that’s my mixture.  But I’m a full-blood American Indian.

I became diabetic.  I was diagnosed in 1985.  I don’t remember the month. And I was two hundred and sixty pounds.  And so with that scare I started walking, changed my diet.  I used to eat anything.  But after taking care of my husband, who was diabetic, I kind of knew the nutritional way of feeding him so I adopted that too.

And I used to walk every morning, soon before the sun came up in front of the Wapato High School.  I walked there every morning.  It hurt like heck because being two hundred and sixty pounds, it hurt my ankles; it hurt my knees; it hurt my hips.  I was short of breath, and, but I kept it up.

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 ah, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and everything was baked or broiled.  Um, so it’s a whole, you know, you have to change your mind about a lot of things to deal with diabetes.

And so I think it was a year or so I lost over a hundred pounds.  And I couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t believe it was like having a rebirth in life, you know, being able to walk and run at ah.  I used to walk a half or, ha’, walk a half of the um, football track there and then run half.  And I couldn’t believe I could do that anymore.  (chuckle)  But anyway that, that was my introduction to diabetes.  And trying to conquer part of it was weight loss.

And it’s a continual fight every day.  You’re always making choices in foods, especially when you go to ceremonies.  You see all that good stuff laying there, and you know you shouldn’t indulge, but you take a little bit of maybe, you know, but not a whole, whole lot of everything that’s there.

So, so my theory is you can eat anything but in smaller portions.  So that way I don’t feel like I’m missing out on everything, you know.  (chuckles).  And I don’t drink and I don’t smoke.  So um, the only vice I have is going to the casino, you know (chuckles), it doesn’t affect my health but it affects my pocketbook (chuckles).

And then going to powwows, and I belong to the Wa’Shat religion, which is here ah, is Toppenish longhouse.  That’s where I go every Sunday.  And then I go to Medicine Dances.  I’m a singer there.  I’m not a person that heals.  I just sing for my own emotional stress, to get rid of that, you know so.  Right now there’s several going on right now, but I just pick and choose which ones to go to, because you have to give things away to be involved in those so.  And I can’t really afford to go to all of them, although I’ve been invited everywhere.

And a lot of the um, speakers and singers at the Medicine Dances, they talk about health.  And diabetes is number one.  Then alcoholism.  And then drugs with their children, you know.  We talk about all the social problems that’s going on in the community and how it affects the people that are there in these Medicine Lodges.

So you know, I, I go to where I get to express how I feel.  That eliminates, you know, the depression with diabetes, you know.  And life, you know, getting older is no fun.  Like I heard, overheard two gentlemen at a restaurant; they says, “Getting old isn’t for sissies.”  And they were so right.  (chuckles)  They were so right.  I couldn’t agree any, couldn’t agree with ah, that, I mean I, I had to agree with that so.  But um.

Q: At the Medicine, Medicine Dance, do you speak about that before you sing?  Do you speak about that to encourage other people?

A: Oh yes!  All of the singers that go, they talk about their health. And what’s going on in their household, their children.  Um, a lot of the things they talk about is really graphic, personal, private things and that they deal with in their homes.  And um, there’s a lot of other issues like murder and rape, incest, things like that, that happen due to alcohol and drug use, you know.  And so these things, a lot of things are talked about.  And so to eliminate, like I said, the depression and stress of those lifestyles, they sing to help themselves and to pray for themselves and others in the same situations.

Q: Well that’s extraordinary.  So the Medicine Dance really provides an avenue for people to get things off their chest, which in turn, probably helps people’s health.

A: Um hmm.  Yes.  We encourage one another to watch our health.  You know, everybody that’s in the ceremony.  And a lot of them are there just to observe and listen, but there’s a few of us that do get on the floor and sing and dance and have the giveaway.

Q: Just curious, does, can anybody speak even if they’re not a singer?  Or is it just the singers that speak?

A: Oh yeah.  Anybody can speak but that’s open during the meal when we break from the ceremonies.  Then we, they set a table with, when everybody can eat together.  And then people can get up and speak.  Or they can request a prayer if they’re not a singer.  They can request a, request a pair, a prayer.  And so we help those individuals that way.  (mm hmm)  And it’s basically just praying to the Creator, God, Jesus, whoever, whatever you want to call him, you know.

Q: So do you feel then that spirituality that through the longhouse and through the Medicine Dances really helps you with your disease?

A: Yes, because I grew up the traditional way.  I grew up in the longhouse.  I grew up going to powwows.  I grew up in the Medicine ah, home.  My grandmother was an Indian doctor, which is one of the last few.  And I watched how she fought um, helped people.  They’d, they would bring them in in blankets and put them on the floor.  And we had no choice.  They didn’t ask if we could help them.  They said, “Help us.”

And so I was like a little nurse alongside of my grandma.  I used to help her with the herbs and everything to get her ready to do the, the um, the healing.  And she did heal a lot of people.  But that’s a whole different chapter of a person’s life, who wants to go into that.  It’s a very, it’s really a sacrifice in your life for others.  And we don’t have people like that anymore.  Maybe every now and then you’ll hear a person doing that.  But her work was mental and physical and spiritual.  So it was really, you know, interesting to watch.

Q: So when you were, let’s see, you were born in 1940 so.

A: Thirty-nine.

Q: Thirty-nine, so this was in the ’40s.  This was in the ’40s and the ’50s that this was happening.  Were there diabetics who came to be healed at that through, your grandmother was it?

A: There was no diabetes back in those days.  Most of the sicknesses were spiritual.  It was like being sick mostly with depression, because you’re dealing with old Indian people who had to get off their homelands to live on the reservation.  And they didn’t like that.  So a lot of their sickness was caused by, by depression.  And it was ah, really a mental thing, because um, they, they longed to live where they grew up, which was along the Columbia River.  And so people would just lay in their homes, in their rooms without eating and drinking.  They would just like slow suicide.  And so the family would get ah, very concerned so they’d come to my grandma, who could help them with song, prayer, whatever it took to help them.

Q: So, a similar thing is happening in the spiritual setting that you were talking about, the Medicine Dance, only it’s more like a group, group help in a way.  And so can you imagine what it would be like for you to have diabetes without that, without the longhouse or without the Medicine Dance?

A: Oh geez, I (sigh), I um, would probably be involved with the White community in combating diabetes if I didn’t have these spiritual places to go to.  Because even in the longhouse you hear the people talk about their health, and how they’re fighting diabetes and the depression and um, (clears throat).  But at least they let it out, you know.

Q: So it gives you a sense of, that you’re not alone.

A: Mm hmm.  Well, I talk to the ah, the diabetes people.  They tell me there’s over nine hundred diabetics in our tribe.  That’s a lot of people.  That’s like ten percent of the enrollment, because there’s like ten thousand Yakamas now.  And it’s getting younger and younger.  Younger kids are getting it.

And I can tell you why.  Because they drink a lot of pop, sugared pop.  They eat a lot of junk food.  And they don’t exercise.  They’re just sitting there watching TV and playing games or whatever, you know.  They’re not out there in the, where the fresh air is and running and doing things.  And I’m always happy to hear kids doing good in track or basketball, you know, physical, doing things physically.  And then the rest are just, you know, couch potatoes at a young age.

Q: Yeah, well it’s a national sickness, I’ll tell you.  So do you have children?

A: I’ve got eight.

Q: Eight.  Wow.  You’re probably a grandmother too.

A: Oh yeah.  Mm hmm.  Fourteen grandkids.  And my oldest son is diabetic.  And he was three hundred pounds plus.  He got a, got diabetes at a young age.  And so he went on a salt, or he went on a water and cracker diet.  It wasn’t good, but it was working for him.  Course he’d, you know, eat other things too, but that was what he was doing.  And we nearly lost him two or three times because his sugar was so high.  There were times he just gave up on himself and would just indulge in whatever.  And then he landed in the hospital two or three times with it.  But he’s doing okay now.  Him and I weigh about the same, but he’s taller than I am.  (chuckles)  We’re always checking our weights with each other, you know.

Q: Good, so you having the responsibility of being a grandmother or the matriarch of this clan now, are you passing on your knowledge about diabetes?

A: Oh yeah!  Yes!  I always tell my kids to watch how they, what to eat, how they, you know.  How to act physically and stuff, because they seen how their dad died, you know.  It was bad because he had high blood pressure most of his life.  And because of things that happened to him when he was a young boy and it, it affected him all of his life.  And he died of um, main artery aneurysm.  His, his ah, vein just burst and there was nothing they could do to save him.  So, but his was complicated.  He had the bad diabetes.  And so he went through surgery for that and three months later he passed away.  He couldn’t sleep.  The pain was too hard and he just literally committed suicide.  He quit eating, which is the way Indians do it.  They’ll just quit eating.  And there’s nothing you can do to help them.  You feel helpless until the end.  So that’s how he went.

Q: So you, what are some of the things you do to encourage your family, your kids and your grandkids to eat right and exercise?  You just lecture them?

A: Yeah!  (talking over)  I just tell them.  Yeah.  I just tell them.  Now that Spring’s here everybody’s outside you know.  Like after school my grandkids are outside playing and doing things and.  But I, I do just encourage them to watch how they, what they eat and get, keep physically fit, you know.

Q: What would you say to listeners to this program around the country, Native people who are struggling with their reaction to the news that they have, or the reality of their diabetes?  What would you say to them to inspire them?

A: Well, I would encourage them to check their weight and to change their attitude about food, you know.  You might be giving up all the fried steaks, French fries, all that heavy greasy stuff and giving up all that sugary stuff.  But you’re really doing it for yourself, not your doctor, not the nurse.  You’re doing it for yourself.  And start exercising.  Get that weight down and um, commit an hour or a half an hour a day to exercise.  And eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.  And drink a lot of water.

That’s what I do now is, water is the most sacred thing.  And it’s free.  I mean, you know, unless you stop at ah, Mini-mart and buy a bottle of water, but I always have water wherever I go, and that’s what I drink.  And if I drink tea, I drink it with Sweet-‘n-Low.  But I quit drinking coffee because it’s just got too much caffeine. And when I was sick with my dia’ ah, my kidneys, it was like, it was too strong for my body to drink coffee.  And I only drank one or two cups a day.  But I’ve literally taken that out of my diet.  And I just drink tea or water, and once in awhile a diet drink.  I stay away from juices because that’s got a lot of sugar.  I might limit it to maybe, you know, six ounces or so, just, just to get a little bit of sugar in me when I’m, you know, shaky and weak and I need an uplift.

Q: I see.  Well, that’s great.  You have a real good attitude and you said something, you said you changed your way of thinking about food and changed your attitude.  It’s really hard for people to do.

A: Mm hmm.  Change is hard.

Q: Change is hard.  So how, you know, what’s your secret?  How were you able to do that?

A: Well um, when I eat out in town I usually have a large bowl of soup and a big helping of salad, either iced tea or hot tea, you know, and a fruit.  And there’s a lot of restaurants that’ll, that serve, you know, good meals.  So even if people are sitting around me eating these steaks and stuff I don’t miss it.

Because ah, one of the reasons why I don’t miss meat anymore is because when my husband passed away we had old traditionals come in and restricted my diet.  They says, “No meat.”  And you know, different types of meat food.  They said, “Don’t eat any meat, fresh meat.”  Ah, because the old people would say, “You’re eating your husband’s body by eating fresh meat.”  It was like, to them it was cannibalism in a different sense.  And so after that happened I just literally quit eating meat.  I eat a little bit like with spaghetti or in soups or stews, you know, but never a whole big portion of steaks.  I just stay away from it.  Because if animals can live on greens, so can we, you know.  We don’t need to eat meat, you know.  (chuckles)

Q: That’s really interesting.  The elders, they were not doing that for health reasons.  They were doing that more for, restricting you a meat diet.  They were doing that more for other reasons.

A: Yeah, for the death of my husband.

Evelyn: Traditional values.

A: Mm hmm.  Mm hmm.   And then they encouraged me to eat more dried foods, like dried salmon, dried deer meat and stuff like that.  But if you don’t have it then you have to eat something else, because there aren’t that many people that dry these kinds of foods.

Q: So it was just the fresh meats.  I’ll be darned.  Is there anything you’d like to finish off by saying, that I haven’t asked a question about?  That might be important to you concerning diabetes?

A: Mm, well, my mother was borderline and she was in her nineties when she died.  But they didn’t have to do medicine on her.  She just was a light eater anyway.  And then my father, when he was, came home from World War II he was killed in a train accident in Celilo.  But I didn’t, he didn’t live long enough to have health complications, so diabetes I think was just like old-age onset for me, because I, I was a pig when I used to eat out.  I, I had the best foods, what you think of the best, you know.  But after I let all that go then I lost almost half of my body weight, because I changed my attitude towards food.

And it’s just really something how anything can kill you, you know.  People talk about di’, ah, alcoholism.  Well, food can kill you too, if you don’t eat the right things.  So, food’s a killer.  Go to Safeway.  See all that stuff there.  (laughs)  But that’s just the way I think about life, you know, the life choices that you make, things you do.  And smoking, you know, I don’t do that because I’m too tight-fisted with my money to take it to the casino.  So I don’t have that smoking habit.  (laughs)  Same way with drinking.  I never liked it.  I lost two brothers of cirrhosis and I seen how they suffered and died with it.  So I said, “Nah, I ain’t going to die like that, you know.”  But diabetes came along and that was due to food and being lazy.  So, now I’m fighting with that.  (laughs)

Q: The fact that you, you know, that you’re going to the Medicine Dances and lodge is really good, that you’re saying that that’s helping you.  It’s really strong here on the Yakama Reservation.  A lot of people in different places don’t have those Native, you know, traditional lodges to go to or longhouses, or whatever.  But do you utilize the sweat at all, as well?

A: I grew up in the sweat, but I never really liked it personally, because every morning before I went to school I’d have my hair in rollers.  By the time I took it down it was long and straight, so I just thought, “Nah.”  I mean, you know, it, it, people do it for spiritual reasons but we did it just for cleansing.  There were times that we sweat, like before we’d go to a ceremony where there’d be a lot of people.  My grandma would work on us so that nothing would affect us, because people would shoot one another with their minds, you know.  Back in those days.

But um, and then when we’d lose someone in the family, then we would sweat for cleansing, you know, because our tribe was big on being contaminated by our deceased.  We weren’t allowed to go dig roots or fish, or hunt, or anything because we had that dead person’s contamination on our bodies, and so we weren’t allowed to touch things.  And so we had to fast and everything for a year so that before we could go out and do these things again.  But we don’t have those practices anymore.

In the longhouse people will bring in a little bundle of cotton blankets, a little bit of material and throw it on the floor and say, “I’m releasing myself from my dead person’s contamination, and I’m going in the mountains.”  You’re not supposed to do that, because then the foods dry up in the mountains.  They become scarce.  The, the berries don’t grow.  The roots don’t grow.  The fish go away.  The deer go away, because you’re up there in the mountains with your contaminated body.  And now no one practices that.  It’s just open.  You know, there’s no control, no, you know, no sacrifice, no what they call the um, yeah, I guess sacrifice, you know.  Sacrifice your (talking over) yeah.  Yeah, sacrifice your social life.  You’re not supposed to be out for a whole year.  So.

Q: It’s tough trying to live in a world where let’s say you have a job and your employer expects you to be there every day.  You can’t say, “Well, I’m going to take a year off.”

A: (laughter) No, because things have changed, you know.  That’s what you call “the change”.   People say, “The world is changing.”  No, it’s not!  It’s the people!  This is changing up here.  I always argue with speakers when they say, “Oh, the world is changing.”  No, Mother Earth’s still the same.  It’s us up here that’s changing.

Q: Very good.  Very good statement.  That’s true.  So we have, that gives, that turns the responsibility around back on ourselves.  If we want change or we want to stay, whatever, it’s up to us.

A: Mm hmm.  If you want to live.

Q: So do you say that if someone finds out that they’re diabetic, then I guess it’s up to them.

A: Mm hmm.  It’s a personal choice whether they want to go with the diet, do the exercise, take their medicine everyday, you know.  And just try and lead a good life so that you will have a good life, you know.  And not depend on, blame the society or, “It’s that nurse’s fault,” or “That doctor’s telling me I’m sick.  I don’t believe him, you know.”  Ah, they, people make excuses because they don’t want to accept the change.  And I’ve always been a realist, you know.  Whatever is happening to me, well by golly, I had something to do with that, you know.  No, nothing happens to you unless you cause it to happen to you.

Q: Well that’s a really healthy attitude.  It calls for a lot of discipline and courage, I think.  Have you prayed of the pain of change, change is difficult, is painful.

A: Mm hmm.  Four years ago you’d have (sigh), you’d have probably made fun of me when I first started taking the therapy of poking my finger for the blood, because I seen my husband do that every day and then give himself a shot, you know, whenever he needed it.  And I didn’t want that.  And um, the White girl that I worked with, she kept encouraging me, you know.  “Delores, you do have to do this.  But you don’t if you don’t want to, you know.”  And then she would give me the bad side of not doing it.  Then the good side of doing it.  So when I practiced pricking my finger for the first time I was crying.  I thought, “This is what I have to live with everyday?  Two or three times a day?”  And I didn’t want that at all.  I, I just.

And then there were times when I was really sick with my kidneys, not knowing that was what my problem was.  I just wanted to jump out of my body and run.  I just didn’t want to deal with it.  And you know, when you’d hear that, then you know you’re wishing you were dead.  So I’ve had my times, you know.  I’m not all that strong.  I’ve, I’ve just had to deal with what was before me.

And there’s no easy way out of diabetes.  It’s a slow killer, you know.  It’s not something where you’re going to die tomorrow.  And, and it’s lot, not like cancer.  You can’t deal with cancer and, and eliminate it.  A lot of people are dying with cancer.  But diabetes you can control.  You can control diabetes.  So you compare it with other illnesses, you know.  Sometimes when you think well, you have to be sick, then you got diabetes.  Well, you’re luckier than that person sitting over there with cancer.  So, you know, I mean it’s not a good choice, but that’s the reality of you know, chronic illnesses with people.  You can look at it in many ways.

Q: Well it’s good to know that you had to work on yourself to get to that point where you accepted it.

A: Yeah, because no one’s going to do it for you.  You have to do it yourself.  And there’s times I forget to take my medicine. But I remember the next day, you know.  Sometimes I get too busy with my life because I do a lot of beadwork, and that’s my, to supplement my income because I get Social Security from my husband.  And it takes care of my basic needs.  But if I want “play money”, then I sit and sew.  Get ready to go somewhere.  Her and I, we, we’re on the road all Summer powwowing.  (laughs)  (background talk)  Yeah.

Q: When you first came in you had that jacket on with the yellow, and you said it was an impulse buy because it made you think of daffodils.  That really, so I’ll remember you like that.

A: (laughter) Yeah, I was at a flea-mart and I seen that jacket hanging up.  And I was selling stuff too, to, you know, to put in my pocket.  And I seen that jacket and I thought, “Oh man!  I got to have that jacket.”  So I kept selling.  Pretty soon I had enough.  So I went across and bought it from the lady.  And my kids were commenting, “Goll’ Mom.  We didn’t think you’d wear something like that!”  I says, “Well, it reminded me of yellow flowers, so I bought the jacket because it’s bright and Springy.”  (laughs)  Even though I’m an old woman running around with bright colors on, because we tend to wear dark colors, you know.  Like me, I was a widow and then I never changed a whole lot from black.  I wear dark blues and maroons, you know, and dark greens.  But that’s really bright.  (laughs)

Q: Well, you may see some daffodils here pretty soon.  It’s the middle of February.

A: Mm hmm.  (laughter)