________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


The Gift of Diabetes.

O. Brion Whitford with John Paskievich (Directors).
O. Brion Whitford (Writer).
Joe MacDonald & John Paskievich (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
58 min., VHS or DVD, $49.95.
Order Number: C9105 114.

Subject Headings:
Diabetes-Alternative treatment.
Native peoples-Canada-Medicine.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.

**** /4

The Gift of Diabetes is an award-winning film that depicts the healing journey of an Ojibway man from Winnipeg as he seeks to more fully comprehend and fight his own life-threatening diabetes. For those who may well wonder how such a serious disease as diabetes could ever be equated with anything so positive as a gift, I'd suggest that another title for this video could have been: "How Diabetes [Was The Gift That] Helped One Aboriginal Begin His Spiritual Journey to Wellness."

     O. Brion Whitford is on a journey of self-discovery and decides to meet with many different aboriginal elders. As writer and narrator of the film, he shows some of the sources of depression and stress that he and many others in the North American aboriginal community have experienced in life and their shared "traumatic history". (I'd refer teachers to the book Stolen Continents by Ronald Wright if seeking the actual details of the colonizing of the new world.) We learn that Brion's own mother had become pregnant at 14 years of age while in a residential school, a place she'd been forcibly sent. Left with his maternal grandfather at a young age, Brion never knew his biological father. He was abruptly removed from his grandfather's care (after a few years) by his mother -- joining the mother, her husband and their younger offspring. Still in his formative years, he was taken to attend an elementary public school in North Winnipeg where he was politely introduced by the teacher as an Indian and asked to which tribe he belonged. Recalling that he had neither the idea that he was an Indian, nor a clue as to what an Indian was (let alone to what tribe he belonged ), Brion grew up, as did his mother before him, nearly bereft of his own culture and spiritual wealth. He experienced everyone else's celebrations in a multicultural city where new Canadian immigrants from Europe and elsewhere all had a strong sense of their own heritage and the importance of preserving their families, their ethnicities and their religions with pride.

     As we watch Brion meeting with his medical doctor and the other staff at the local clinic, we get a clear sense that he has not succeeded in managing his own illness very well. Until he begins to search for the wisdom of other aboriginal peoples, he does not have a compelling personal reason why he should struggle to keep his blood sugar levels under control. (If he has his own children, we do not learn of them in this video.) Then, newly introduced to the concept of being an honoured ancestor, of his worth and importance to a younger generation of aboriginal peoples, an intensely personal struggle begins to pay dividends in terms of the fight against diabetes. He is able to come to terms with the great loss he felt years ago, leaving the hands of his maternal grandfather.

     Many complementary pieces of information from Brion's spiritual mentors are pieced together to make this a valuable piece of work to anyone who would seek to learn how some aboriginal peoples in North America now feel about diabetes, its treatment and the connection to their own plights in history. It is through the advice of individual elders to Brion that we get a broad sense of how different aboriginals regard their own responsibility in fighting the disease.

     The film would be an excellent component to an intermediate or senior class's study of aboriginal peoples and their history. Older high school and college students would also gain much from the film, including those studying sociology or world religion. It is obvious that both the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) and aboriginal communities should consider purchasing this video because it is a sensitive, non-judgmental portrayal of one man's diabetes, a disease which is not only epidemic in the aboriginal community but also widespread in the broad-based multicultural Canadian society. It is a film whose time has come. Older students who watch the film should also be directed to the University of British Columbia's medical genetics website if they wish to learn more about the genetic predisposition of diabetes as it is currently being researched.

     The Gift of Diabetes is close captioned with the use of a decoder for those who are deaf.

Highly Recommended.

Cathy Vincent-Linderoos, who lives in London, ON, is a retired teacher and a member of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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