Ruth's article about Sweet Bloods appears in The Conversation

When Emily’s mother lay dying of kidney failure from years of diabetes, Emily begged the doctors to take her kidney and transplant it into her mom. But the doctors refused — Emily had diabetes too. She would need both kidneys herself.

Like many Indigenous groups around the world, the James Bay Cree of northern Québec have a disproportionately high rate of diabetes. They’re facing it down with a decidedly Indigenous solution: A Talking Circle in print.

In 2012, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) assigned local Cree health representatives to choose people with diabetes whose stories they thought significant — people like Emily. Then they hired me, (a freelance writer and academic), to bring them into print.

Gathered in The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee: Stories of Diabetes and the James Bay Cree, the stories, at least as much about life in the North as they are about diabetes, are part record, part awareness-raising. They reveal unmistakable connections to colonization. And they are meant to help people heal.

Read the full article in The Conversation

Sweet Bloods has been featured in Folio News

"There is a big stigma around diabetes in our communities,” said [Paul Linton, assistant director of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay]. “It's seen as a disease for weak people, who if they'd only smarten up wouldn't have it. I know of one case where a husband had been diagnosed for two or three years and never told his wife. He kept his pills in the car, taking them on the way to work and back."

The prevalence of that stigma is why Linton and his colleagues decided to break the silence with a method they already knew to be effective—storytelling.

The health board commissioned a collection of 27 short stories about living with diabetes that would serve as a kind of talking circle in print. Linton turned to Ruth Dyck Fehderau, a University of Alberta creative writing instructor who was working on a novel in the region at the time, to collect the stories and pull them all together.

"Sweet Bloods" is a collection of 27 short stories about Indigenous people living with diabetes in the Cree territory of Eeyou Istchee.

“I was thrilled to be asked, and am overwhelmed with gratitude to be involved with this community project," said Dyck Fehderau. "What they were trying to do is get people talking and correcting misinformation, and encourage people living with diabetes to share how they cope or don't cope."

She flew all over the territory interviewing people of all ages—a 15-year-old star hockey prospect forced out of the game by high blood glucose levels, a man who hunts on one leg after a diabetes-related amputation, a woman who has kept her diabetes under control for 30 years but can’t get her doctor to take her seriously.

Dyck Fehderau considered it her mission to honour everyone she interviewed, writing in a transparent, declarative prose style that aimed to capture the spirit and voice of each storyteller. She made repeated trips back to the storytellers to make sure they were satisfied with her renderings.

Some chose to remain anonymous, signing their stories with tongue-in-cheek pseudonyms like Jennifer Gloria Lowpez, Jennifer Susan Annistin and Sandra Judith Bulluck.

The result, just released, is The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee: Stories of Diabetes and the James Bay Cree. They are widely varied accounts of resilience and adaptation, says Dyck Fehderau, and yet strike an unmistakable common chord: diabetes in James Bay, as in so many Indigenous communities around the world, cannot be separated from colonization.

Read the full Folio article here

Paul Linton speaks to Betsy Longchap about Sweet Bloods on Cree Radio CBC

Every single James Bay Cree family has at least one close relative living with diabetes, as do many Indigenous communities across the country and around the world.

That experience is distilled in a new collection, called "The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee: Stories of Diabetes and the James Bay Cree". It's published by the Cree Board of the Health and Social Services of James Bay.

Paul Linton is assistant director of Public Health for Chishaayiyuu (people over the age of 30). He spoke with CBC North host Betsy Longchap. (Interview in East Cree).

Listen to the full interview on SoundCloud