2013 marked the 12th year of the BC Aboriginal Diabetes Conference. It was the dedication of front line health workers who have a deep level of caring and understanding for the needs of their community members that have made this event possible. Our success has not come without the consistent support of our community leaders. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Kukpi Wayne Christian and Chief Clarence Louie each have almost never missed a conference and for this we have much gratitude. Penticton has been a wonderful event venue and we are pleased to be welcomed by Chief John Kruger as well as the Lakeside Hotel. There are numerous facilitators that, over the years, have helped to make this conference a relevant learning experience. Some have supported us for many years including Guido Vanderheyden, Andrew McGinnis, Maquilla Maklaryn, Opie Openhiem, Dr. Evan Adams, Mrs. Pudding (Sue Shaefer), and Lisa Koski.


Most importantly, our success comes from the positive energy that each and every one of you brings to this conference. Your enthusiasm for learning and passion for the health and wellbeing of your family, friends and community has helped us to create the fun and supportive learning environment that we had envisioned, what seems like, not that long ago.


Back in I995, the conference began with a research project between a university, the Okanagan Indian Band and Little Shuswap Indian Band. The research question looked at whether a community based diabetes prevention program could make a difference in the level of risk that individuals faced towards the development of diabetes. Sandy Burgess, a federal community health nurse, helped to coordinate that research along and the community based prevention efforts along with local front line health workers at Okanagan Indian Band and the Penticton Indian Band in participating in test subjecting. The study was close to wrapping up and along came the announcement of federal dollars for an Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative. Typical of federal financial announcements, it was made late in the fiscal year and with only a small allocation, so they called it ‘bridge funding.  The communities in BC that were eligible for this funding were those that had recently participated in research projects. It might have been in the amount of 10 or 20 thousand dollars.

Sandy Burgess and several other community health workers decided that it was best to focus on building their capacity to educate about diabetes and promote health and wellness in the communities. From that, monthly training days were organized and all health workers in the Okanagan as well as, Adams Lake Indian Band and Splatsin were invited and did participate. Near the end of these training sessions, the health workers all made plans to begin various diabetes education and health promotion activities in their communities, but what they felt really needed to happen was to bring all of our people together to learn and support each other together.


It was said “We get to go to conferences all the time, but our community people don’t so we should host a conference for them.” It was felt that if we made it a big deal and treated people really well, they would want to come and would feel comfortable in a learning environment. So the workers came together as a planning committee and in the year 2000 hosted the first conference in Penticton. Nine conferences later, we came together again in Penticton for the tenth annual conference entitled: “Celebrating CommUnity.”


We have heard lots about  how eating well and staying active help to prevent and control diabetes along with medications both western and traditional. We have learned how diabetes, being a disease that involves blood, effects every inch of our bodies including our feet, eyes, kidney and heart. We have listened to individuals share from their heart the struggles and triumphs in living with this disease and we have learned how our health and wellness can be effected by diabetes. We had fun learning, laughed lots, visited many, made new friends, with colleagues, celebrated our youth role models and honored our culture.


Part of Sandy’s original goal was to build capacity in our nations and this has certainly happened. The conference planning committee has excelled at hosting a conference that has been attended by nations from almost every province and territory as well as the United States. Many nations have said “we can do this too” and have been charged to host their own events and regular activities in their communities. In 2012 we plan to focus on spiritual, emotional and physical wellness at the Diabetes: Route to Wellness Conference.

Suzanne Johnson for the BCADC Conference Planning Committee