LIVING WITH DIABETES IN MOOSE FACTORY


This long-term photo-documentary project explores the unique challenges faced by diabetics living in the Cree community of Moose Factory, Ontario, an island where historical events and social determinants have led to unusually high rates of the disease among the Moose Cree —three to five times higher than the national average. Facing the possibility of such complications as kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and heart disease, diabetic residents struggle with the difficulty of lifelong treatment in a remote territory.


Produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council and Ryerson University Magazine.


Exhibition and Book Launch:

March 9 – April 10, 2016

Moose Factory First Nation is a semi-isolated island community located approximately 800km north of Toronto. Access to the island is gained via water taxi or helicopter. During the winter months, cars and trucks travel across the frozen river on the ice road, a vital lifeline that gives families easy access to the outside world and a reprieve from relative isolation.

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Caroline Chum, a Moose Factory local with Type 2 diabetes, looks out from her home at the Elder’s lodge, a live-in retirement home. The window overlooks her family trap line on the shores of the Moose River, which fed locals for centuries but is now passed over for the convenience of grocery store goods.

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Aside from a few teepees and upturned canoes dotted here and there, Moose Factory First Nation is now a modern place to live. In each driveway there sits a four-wheel drive or a pickup truck, and there are three schools, a hospital, and a constant supply of electricity. Running water has been available on the island’s reserve side since the 1970s. Such infrastructure is important for a modern reserve, but it doesn’t come without its difficulties. Temperatures regularly dip as low as -30 degrees Celsius during the winter months, meaning that overhead utility pipes must be installed above ground as the winter frost sets too deep to bury them—more than four metres below ground in some places.

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Former boat builder, James Whiskeychan, sits in the shade with his huskies near two cedar wood canoes that he built. His son Peter recently helped James complete the last Whiskeychan canoe. James can no longer build them since his legs were amputated due to Type 2 diabetes and his son has chosen to search for work in the more lucrative local mining outfit.

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Paris Carey, who recently moved to Moose Factory First Nation, shares a joke with her cousin Chris (out of frame). Three of her cousins are diabetic or borderline. Paris is healthy so far, but the disease runs in her family.

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With a lack of year-round surface transportation in Moose Factory First Nation, produce is delivered via rail, barge, or by air underneath the whirring blades of commercially piloted helicopters.

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Gordy Innis, pictured here, distributes the goods to the island’s two locally-owned convenience stores and the larger Northern store. Northern stores can be found in most underserved rural communities across northern Canada. Oftentimes, they are the only store in the community that sells a full stock of groceries, meaning they are nearly always in a monopoly situation. As such, they impose their own prices and offer food selection mostly based on a profit-driven model.

 

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A stained glass window in the Weeneebayko General Hospital. The blending of native and Christian symbolism helped to introduce Christianity to the local culture over four centuries ago.

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Former hunter James O. Sutherland has a coffee before going out to help his friends prepare to fish on the Moose River. He has Type 2 diabetes and no longer hunts, attempting to control his blood sugar with less strenuous activities, such as walking.

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Residents swim near a large sandbank in the Moose River, which was deposited by the spring thaw. While the river was once primarily a place to source food, it has been turned into a venue of active leisure for the community.

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Health Director George Small Jr. and his wife Mary tend to spring geese from last spring’s hunt. The traditional life, which was once rich in physical activities like hunting and woodcutting, has been lost in favour of modernization—the old ways are less lucrative and the next generation is uninterested in maintaining them—leading to a more sedentary existence on the island.

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While traditions such as hunting and fishing are encouraged by many a grandparent in Moose Factory First Nation, most children prefer to play Xbox. The equipment required to camp and hunt in the region is also expensive to purchase. The local school used to start two weeks earlier than others in Ontario so that families could hunt together in the spring and the fall, but they no longer offer this schedule due to the disruption they say it could cause.

 

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Siblings Debbie Edwards and Eddie Martin hug in front of a portrait of Debbie as her younger self in traditional headband and feather. Families within the community do attempt to keep past cultural practices alive by staging dance circles, Powwow ceremonies, traditional cooking classes etc., despite the encroaching comforts and conveniences from the south.

 

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A teepee in the garden on Moose Factory Island’s reserve. Teepees are multi-purpose shelters, sometimes even serving as ersatz garages for the island’s aboriginal families.

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