A Minnesota man who's been a lifelong (but controversial) advocate for Native American Indians has declared a "War on Diabetes" in the name of his native people, and to raise awareness about type 2 diabetes he's leading an 18,000-mile motorcycle ride across the United States.
That man is Dennis Banks, known also by his Indian name, Nowa Cumig (meaning "In the Center of the Universe"), and he may be familiar to you from his cameo roles in the movies Last of the Mohicans and Thunderheart in the 90s. His Native American music rhythms also appear in Peter Gabriel's Les Musiques du Monde and Peter Matthiessen's No Boundaries.
The motorcycle ride he's now organizing starts Saturday, kicking off at four different West Coast spots -- Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle -- and finishes on Sept. 27 with a 1,000-drum concert at the nation's capital in Washington D.C.
Banks is an elder of the Anishinaabe Indian Nation that's made up of Ottawa, Ojibwe/Chippewa, and Algonquin peoples. He resides on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota and has been a globally-known Indian rights advocate his entire life, co-founding the Minneapolis, MN-based American Indian Movement in 1968 to advocate for North American Indians, as well as his own non-profit called the Nowa Cumig Institute.
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For the past several years, based on his own life with type 2 diabetes and how it's been impacting the Indian populations, he's organized walks, rides and events to raise more awareness about this illness and how the Indian communities can work to be more healthy overall.
Be warned: if you Google his name, you'll find some of the beliefs that saturate the world about type 2 that many of us in the D-Community disagree with. For example, Banks describes himself in his online writings as a "former" type 2 who has managed to successfully "reverse" his diabetes through diet and exercise. Thus, this motorcycle ride is officially dubbed the Ride to Reverse Diabetes 2014.
* Queue eye rolling and head shaking from many in the D-Community here *
And let us be clear: We don't subscribe to the whole concept of "reversing" diabetes. Many do, but science does show that people with diabetes can't rid themselves of it completely, rather they can manage it well and improve their health to the point where the symptoms of T2 seem to disappear. Good for Banks if he's achieved this!
While we do take issue with his language about "reversing diabetes," the topic of T2 in the American Indian community is a serious issue that needs more awareness, so we can get behind Banks' efforts to improve the situation.
His whole purpose is to raise awareness about the high rate of Indigenous peoples in urban cities and on reservations who are impacted by type 2 diabetes, in large part due to poor health and nutrition.
"If we don't address this medical issue now there will be no 7th generation (of American Indians) that will be healthy," he said in a recent radio interview posted online.
That's a scary thought -- that diabetes could be what eventually wipes out this persecuted ethnic group.
The federal Indian Health Services (IHS) and its division of diabetes treatment and prevention reports that diabetes in the native community is at 12-15% now, and it's 2.3% times more likely in Native American Indians and 9 times higher in youth and teens. Of course, the cost and complication numbers are just as high.
Many programs and resources exist and need to be shared, but efforts like this motorcycle ride are just as important because they cast a spotlight on the issue and rally the community to get involved.
This motorcycle run follows Banks 2011 T2 awareness program called the "Longest Walk 3 — Reversing Diabetes" that took throngs of walkers through 72 American Indian reservations and communities before they arrived on Capitol Hill to confront members of Congress.
We reached out to Banks himself and other ride organizers, but were unfortunately unable to connect through phone or email via the Nowa Cumig Institute or the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.
So what we know is from interviews and info out in the public realm -- that 200+ riders are set to make the trek from West to East, following several different routes, and stopping to visit as many Indian reservations as possible along the way.
Details we've found online show that the event begins with "sending the warriors off to battle" via a sunrise ceremonial blessing of song, drum, and sage, from 6-8:30 am. The public and motorcycle enthusiasts are invited to join the occasion for a successful send-off.
For those starting off in San Francisco, this all happens at Crissy Field, and the riders will head north to visit some of the California tribes in Santa Rosa, Middletown, Big Valley and Laytonville before heading into other eastern states.
Once the riders arrive in D.C., word is they'll be using their collective voices and critical data collected to ask Congress to take action in regard to the health of American Indians. Data on the Indian populations and diabetes will be shared, to help in creating a national plan to combat diabetes -- one that would fit in with the U.S. government treaties that spell out the federal obligation to maintain health and well-being of American Indians.
Sounds ambitious, but grassroots advocacy in any community is commendable and certainly worthwhile.
So, Diabetes Community Friends, let's cheer on Dennis Banks and his tribe of motorcycle advocates, and do what we can to support their ride across the country!