Henri Anishinabie and Sarah Blackwell.    – Photo by Janet Brandl

Henri Anishinabie and Sarah Blackwell. – Photo by Janet Brandl

By Sarah Blackwell

NORTH BAY – Why do so many people wait until they are sick or nearly dying before they make changes to improve their health?  This is a conversation I had with Nipissing First Nation medicine man Henri Anishinabie at the Lions Gate Wellness Winter Open House. 

The poor health status of First Nations people has been attributed to sub-standard living conditions, poverty and lack of availability to fresh fruits and vegetables. Some argue  it’s genetic or an effect of residential schools that left First Nations people filled with shame, guilt and low self-esteem.

Whatever the causes, First Nations people share a habit with most others in the world — many wait until they have a diagnosis of disease to do something about it.  I’ve discovered a couple of factors that I believe have influenced this behaviour.

 First, society has redefined our understanding of what is defined as “food”.  The food our ancestors ate is far different than what our children are being fed today.  Second, we have been conditioned to believe that we need “more” of everything in our lives in order to be “good enough”.  Whether it is good enough to receive respect from the white man and their government, or good enough within our own communities.  Add this to our history of assimilative experiences we have endured and it  is a recipe for bannock, with a heart attack on the side.

Henri and I spoke about this while sipping on green smoothies.  Henri is a medicine man from Nipissing First Nation who shares his knowledge of traditional medicines that have been shown to heal  ailments like heart disease and cancer.  He speaks about the power these medicines have and mentions that “too many people don’t use these medicines before they get sick”.  We discussed how the same goes for eating foods that are preventative in nature – like green smoothies. The nutrients from foods like greens have everything that nature intended for us to have.  It is like the medicines we once relied solely on as a nation. 

Imagine a generation that relies on our traditional medicine and food to be healthy. Imagine your grandchildren growing up in a time when obesity, diabetes, asthma and cancer no longer take their lives at almost double the rate of non-aboriginal people.

This is possible, through awareness, collaboration and not waiting until sickness, disease and discomfort are part of your life.  It means doing it now before you get sick. It means healing and changing the thoughts that have deemed you not “good enough” to be healthy, vibrant and beautiful.  It means giving up the role of victim or that someone did something to you. It means showing yourself your own self-worth.

 Living a life in sickness is not what the Creator intended for us.