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Annual Diabetes Event draws in record audience

Kali photo/Christopher Johnson

Keynote speaker Dr. Evan Adams discusses acting, medical school, and family life growing up in a traditional village in western Canada. Adams is best known for his portrayal of Thomas Builds-The-Fire in the acclaimed 1998 movie ‘Smoke Signals.’

The 2019 Annual Diabetes Event took place August 28 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center. Sponsored by the Oneida Comprehensive Health Division and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI), the theme for this year’s sold-out event was titled ‘Rise Above: Don’t Let Diabetes Get You Down.’ More than 500 guests enjoyed a meet & greet, a healthy dinner, panel discussions, a laughter session, a featured speaker, and prize drawings during the ever-popular event which is designed to increase awareness and educate people about diabetes.

“This event has become very popular and it’s very well attended,” Betty Schwantes, the event coordinator and registered dietitian, said. “It speaks to the community for wanting to learn about diabetes and how to prevent and control it. We started this event more than 20 years ago and we had maybe fifty people attend, and this year we had our largest sell-out at 504 people.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Evan Adams, a Coast Salish actor and physician from the Tla’amin First Nation near Powell River, BC, Canada. Adams is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Thomas Builds-The-Fire in the acclaimed 1998 film ‘Smoke Signals.’

“I graduated (from high school) when I was 16,” Adams said. “I had something I called the ‘great red hope syndrome.’ When any young person with a bit of brains and ambition is told to go to school and help people it sounds like such a drag. Being an actor sounded like a lot more fun than being a doctor, so I became a professional actor for more than twelve years. There had actually been two Thomas’s cast before me and they were let go.”

Adams has such love and respect for his elders that he came up with an interesting way to portray his character. “The old ladies that I grew up with were so beautiful and so strong that they would die for you,” Adams said. “They loved you so much, so when I was cast to play Thomas I swore that I would be the most beautiful, amazing elder woman you’ve ever met. I wanted to capture that.”

Despite experiencing some success in the movie business, Adams was still driven to become a medical provider to help his people. “My best friend was a doctor and she told me becoming a doctor was easy,” Adams said. “I’m not sure why I believed her, but I had this friend that believed in me. So, I played Thomas but now I’m a doctor and I help look after a quarter-million indigenous people in Canada. My job is human health and it’s what I think about all day long, every day. It’s a privilege.”

Adams said he was extremely grateful to the Oneida Nation for inviting him to speak about diabetes and wellness. “My grandmother passed away from complications related to diabetes,” Adams said. “My mother told me we have a family history of diabetes and I noticed when I ate sugar I felt really sick. My doctor told me to be careful with sugar and I was introduced to controlling what I ate as a thirteen-year-old.”

Anybody dealing with diabetes does not have to fight the disease alone, Adams said. “There could be a hundred different people in here on a hundred different journeys with diabetes,” Adams said. “But diabetes happens. We’re all family. We’re all on the same team. We’re going through the same things so let’s talk, respect each other, and have respectful dialogue. Let’s share our knowledge and go through this together.”

Adams was also mindful to discuss self-care. “I also want to remind you about care,” Adams said. “Diabetes is really complicated but some of this knowledge is very manageable. Making a plan to get better is really important because it’s hard to randomly fall into better health. So, make a plan. Let’s show them all. I hope that you have seen which way to turn for wellness. It’s as easy as saying you want health and wellness. You all have varying perspectives and varying stories and for that I’m thankful. Sometimes to get where we need to go we need to fly in a different way.”

“I thought Dr. Adams was outstanding,” Schwantes said. “I thought he hit every criterion we had hoped to hit on. He discussed his family story, education, and he was very heart-felt. You could hear a pin drop in that audience, so he was really great. It isn’t easy coming up with presenters every year and it gets rough trying to top the year before.”

The Comprehensive Health’s eight-person planning committee will soon be hard at work making arrangements for next year’s event. “We’ll probably start planning it out in March and looking for next year’s presenter before that,” Schwantes said. “I’ll start making contacts in January so by March I’ll know who the presenter will be. Our planning committee is phenomenal because we have people in the computer world, advertising, and educational booths. Everybody has their role and really helps get the ball rolling and Tim (Moureau) and Dr. (Michael) Flood help MC it for me.

“This whole event is meant to increase awareness to be able to prevent diabetes,” Schwantes said. “If somebody has it, they can be able to control it and see how others are dealing with it. This doesn’t need to be a secret. Get it out there so everybody can talk about it and learn from one another.”