News | Diabetes plagues Kahnawake

Poor sports facilities and funding push disease to twice national average

Underfunded athletics facilities in Kahnawake are contributing to the community’s diabetes problem, according to Mackenzie Whyte, operations coordinator of Kahnawake’s Sports and Recreation Unit.

“People have developed a more sedentary lifestyle,” Whyte said. “If there were more facilities, people would have access to a greater range of activities and more possible times to do them.”

Kahnawake is a First Nations reserve of about 7,000 located on Montreal’s south shore. Over 800 people, nearly 12 per cent of the population, have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – more than twice the national average of 5 per cent.

“It’s a lot of people,” Whyte said.

A survey conducted for Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Branch in July revealed that while increasing numbers of First Nations people are aware of the programs promoting physical activity in their communities, few of them connect exercise with the prevention of diabetes.

First Nations populations with diabetes are more likely to point to genetics or diet as the disease’s cause, according to the survey.

The same survey reported that under half of the First Nations people surveyed rated their communities’ sports facilities as “good” or “excellent.” Whyte pointed out that even Kahnawake’s minimal facilities are better than most.

“We’re unusual compared to other First Nations,” she said. “In other places, like up north, they don’t even have an arena at all.”

Jun-Li Liu of Montreal’s Fraser Laboratories for Diabetes Research said that exercise is one of the most important factors in preventing or treating Type 2 diabetes, a disease that occurs when the body is unable to properly process insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in the blood.

“Exercise builds muscle and muscle is better at responding to insulin,” Liu said. “The bottom line is, if you’re afraid of becoming diabetic, you need exercise.”

While Whyte admitted that healthy habits are the responsibility of the individual, she said the community’s athletics facilities would be hard-pressed to aid widespread health initiatives.

Kahnawake’s Sport and Recreation Unit received about $12,000 of funding last year from the federal and provincial governments combined, an amount Whyte called “peanuts.” She said the recreation centre would have to expand its facilities if it wants to add more programs.

“Sometimes people will come at night because they want to walk around the arena, but it will be crowded with kids,” she said. “They ask, ‘When will it be less crowded?’ and we have to tell them to come back during the day. We just need more room.”

Whyte added that Kahnawake’s hospital has been proactive in organizing activities like walking groups.