Reztoring pride and eradicating diabetes: An interview with SOADI youth co-ordinator Marie Bowering

Can you tell us about SOADI’s youth diabetes program?

The youth program with SOADI started in January 2010. We needed a way to engage youth so we hired John Henhawk from Six Nations who was a local activist and hip hop artist. We wanted to engage youth on their own terms, and saw hip hop as being an important way to do that. John put out a call to Aboriginal youth and hip hop artists to see who would want to make songs based around diabetes awareness.
reztore pride dancers
This ended up becoming the Reztore Pride initiative. Mitch Baird who was the program coordinator at SOADI contacted Rex Smallboy who is one of the top indigenous hip hop artists in the country. Rex got very excited about it because he had lost his mother to diabetes. One of the very first songs on our first CD is dedicated to Martha who is Rex’s mother.

We hosted a focus group and a bunch of youth came together with two elders – grandmother Renee Thomas-Hill and Walter Cook – and they came up with the name of the program Reztore Pride.

Jeremy Smoke created the logo of a microphone with the feather. So our youth program was begun for the youth and by the youth, but also had the guidance of our elders.

Funding from the Niagara Pennisuala Aboriginal Area Management Board helped to kickstart the youth program and provided an opportunity for John and the artists to perform their songs across Southern Ontario. They went to different communities and they began to sing and share their rap poetry. We tried to have our elders travel with the youth everywhere. Grandmother Renee did most of the travelling. She is from Six Nations and she got to be known as the “Hip Hop Gramma” through this.

The diabetes prevention coordinator then teamed up with the youth program and started bringing more educational and visual aspects to their shows so people got the information on how to prevent diabetes.

We acknowledged that there needed to be more physical activity, so John Henhawk worked with a group out of Toronto called Red Slam. They would come out to events and do dance presentations which then got into us recruiting break dancers. We also popularized a hip hop version of the medicine wheel which links spoken word, DJing, visual art, and physical activity to the concepts of the medicine wheel.

What was the reaction like from the youth to this kind of programming?

It was it was phenomenal. I would consider it a great movement within our communities. Rezstore Pride became very popular and remains a highly requested SOADI program.

Videos, pictures and collages were created and self-expression whether through writing, artwork, or dancing was encouraged.

A lot of personal growth happened within the artists as well. For example one artist named Main Event (Cody McGregor) was a rapper and then he started his own DJ business so now he travels with the group and provides DJing workshops as well. He also went back to learn the Ojibway language and he’s becoming very fluent in his language at this point.

Is the youth programming still being offered?

The transition now is that we’ve been moving with the original vision but now it’s happening more as a mentorship program. We have community mentorships going on within the community across Southern Ontario. So we’ve been providing these coaching opportunities for youth as role models and leaders so that they can take what they learn and bring it into their communities. And we provide them with the workshops and resource information on diabetes. Because that’s the key here we’re all about preventing and educating people about diabetes.

Why is diabetes education so important for youth?

Our goal is to eradicate diabetes. So what we found is that our youth are the ones taking control of their health and well-being. They’re like sponges. We feed them the information and they make the changes to their personal life and they’re holding their parents and program coordinators more accountable in terms of what they’re feeding them and what activities they are doing together.

Are youth at risk from diabetes?

Years ago diabetes was more of an older person’s disease but more and more young people are getting diagnosed with not only Type Two diabetes (which is preventable) but also with Type One diabetes. A lot of that is due to our environment and the whole fast food industry. Youth are also caregivers, so a lot of our youth support their parents or aunties or grandparents who have diabetes. Our program helps to prevent the youth from getting diabetes while also giving them the tools to help their families.

For interested youth, what’s the best way to get involved and find out more?

Go to our website and you can find out all the details. You can also email us at or call us at 289-668-3108. So you can get involved from visiting our website and sending us information because we do travel throughout Southern Ontario and we’re always looking to engage youth who are into hip-hop as well as our traditional teachings and medicines. It’s not just a hip-hop thing, we have a youth group in Fort Erie made up of drummers, dancers and singers and they often will come and showcase their talent. So we have that balance of the contemporary hip-hop with our traditional ways.

Can you tell us about what regions you service as SOADI?

We are the southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative and so we cover Southern Ontario. We have an office in the Western region in Moraviantown. We also have an office in our West Central region at Six nations. Then we have an urban horseshoe diabetes prevention coordinator who works out of Hamilton. We have a Toronto diabetes prevention coordinator and we have our Central region which is in Peterborough. Our Eastern regional worker is in Ottawa. So there are six diabetes prevention coordinators as well as our head office in the Niagara region.

What kind of services can people access at those offices if they’ve got diabetes?

People can access our services at all of regional offices. We share all of our resources. They can be downloaded for free or we can send them to you through the mail. The other service that we have is our educational program, which offers training for frontline workers. We do trainings on mental health issues, first aid, the 13 grandmother moons, CPR, as well as multiple training initiatives around our community needs. We have an amazing foot care team that teaches people the importance of proper foot care. We also go to the various communities I’ve listed and put on clinics so community members can come in and see a doctor or nurse for help with their feet.

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