Standing Up to Diabetes on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation

By: ICTMN Staff

Janine Rourke Recognized for Her Contributions by Chief Ron LaFrance

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and Health Services debuted its Diabetes Center for Excellence on February 12, with a community tribute to the future health and wellness of Akwesasne.

The vision behind the structure was to have a home for specialized services focusing on prevention and diabetes management. The vision of many is now a reality for Akwesasne. Diabetes affects 16 percent of Mohawks living on the territory, as compared to a state prevalence of 8 percent. The Let’s Get Healthy Program offers family-based education programs in fitness, diabetes health, nutrition and prevention.

“Engaging the community in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle is the mission of the Diabetes Center For Excellence,” said Heather Garrow, program manager. Guests of the ceremony were honored to have Sub-Chief Eric Thompson give the Thanksgiving address in the Mohawk language. The ceremony was complete only after an incredible performance by the Haudenosaunee Cultural Group; dancers gave a Three Sister’s Play, a Fancy Shawl dance, a Jingle dance and a group hoop dance.

At the opening ceremony, Feryn King twirled in her beautifully decorated shawl (Courtesy St. Regis Mohawk Tribe)The $3.6 million building holds a 15,000-square-foot footprint in Generations  Park, land donated by Margaret Terrance with intent to care for our elders.  Generations Park fosters a connection between Akwesashró:non, young and young at  heart. The Diabetes Center for Excellence provides space to address diabetes  management, including a 2,500-square-foot fitness room, a heated floor for yoga,  a pool for aquatic exercise, including an assisted lift for easier access and a  theatre kitchen. The nutritional support includes both counseling and cooking  demonstration space. A relaxation room offers a mind-body connection to teach  meditative stress reduction. Stress can be a significant factor in the  management of chronic disease.

“This building brings hope to those afflicted by diabetes. The tenacity of  Janine Rourke brought diabetes and obesity to the public conscience at  Akwesasne,” Chief LaFrance remarked as he extended his gratitude to the woman in  the second row, Janine Rourke, the tireless champion recognized and thanked in  every Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal leader’s speech during the ceremony. Janine led  the program for over a decade. “Without her dedication, hard work, perseverance  and vision, we would not be standing here today,” said Debbie Martin, the former  director of Health Services. Debbie retired the first week of February and  proudly spoke about the history, the commitment and the dedicated volunteers who  made the Diabetes Center for Excellence possible. Among the groups recognized  were the community members who participated in and organized multiple Golf  tournaments, the first of which raised $65,000.

Chief Paul Thompson was present in heart. His grateful words were shared with  the crowd of almost 100 people. He recognized the Akwesasne Housing Authority  who took a lead role in this important effort, sponsoring and organizing events.  “Retha Herne presented a check for one million dollars to fund this project. It  was absolutely amazing”. Present were instrumental guests from the United States  Department of Agriculture Rural Development who contributed $336,000. Chief  Thompson and Chief LaFrance thanked Brian Murray, the Northern Regional Area  Director and Renee Hotte, also from the USDA Rural Development offices. Martha  Torrez and Stanley “Lee” Telega represented the USDA from the national and state  offices, respectively. Ms. Torrez traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico to join  our celebration.

Janine Rourke cuts the ribbon at the opening of the new Diabetes Center for Excellence on February 12, 2014. (Courtesy St. Regis)

 Janine Rourke cuts the ribbon at the opening of the new Diabetes Center for  Excellence on February 12, 2014. (Courtesy St. Regis)


The Planning and Infrastructure Division of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was  responsible for all of the construction management. Director Ernie Thompson  shared stories of the collective efforts of construction, the architects and  engineers and his team, led by Colleen Thomas. Heritage Homes was selected as  the contractor of the facility in August of 2012. The construction design allows  for an expansion phase that will accommodate future needs, including an indoor  walking track.

Fundraising for this endeavor has been tremendous. The leaders all took time  to thank the many donors, including the Annual Golf Committee members and  golfers, the Black Tie Committee, the Akwesasne Garden Club members, the Annual  7 Miles for 7 Generations walk participants, the St. Regis Mohawk School, and  hundreds of individual donors. There was significant financial support through  HUD Indian Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $600,000, the USDA  Community Facilities Program grant of $515,880 and HUD Urban Development Action  Grant (UDAG) presented the project with $800,000. Contributions from the Saint  Regis Mohawk Tribe and Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort total copy.4 million.

Officially, the Diabetes Center for Excellence began seeing patients in late  2013; the Center welcomed 235 people and over 700 visits. The future of diabetes  care is changing on the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne. “For centuries, the word  “diabetes” never crossed the lips of our ancestors. It is now in every  conversation with our loved ones as we plan our meals, meet our friends, send  our children to school, perform our jobs and dream about the future of our  grandchildren. The vision held for a Diabetes Center of Excellence Institute is  to create the opportunity for all Akwesashró:non to recover the balance, harmony  and peacefulness of a good life without diabetes once again”, original words by  Janine Rourke.