First Nations artist goes back to traditional diet to beat diabetes

She calls it the reclamation of well-being diet. Call it what you will, but for K.C. Adams it is a way for her to stave off diabetes.
K.C. Adams eats bison stew she made with Onions, bison, carrots, potatoes, corn, and butternut squash. (Supplied by K.C. Adams)

She calls it the reclamation of well-being diet. It is a take on the pre-contact or the hunter-gatherer diet.

Call it what you will, but for K.C. Adams it is a way for her to stave off diabetes — a disease that didn't plague indigenous communities before Europeans arrived in North America.

Adams, a visual artist living in Winnipeg, joined a few friends who decided that for the month of November they would follow a diet similar to their ancestors pre-contact with Europeans.

Adams, who is of Cree, Ojibway and British descent, admits they each have a few cheats on what is considered local food, but they have more or less stuck to the diet.

“We’ve tried to be very Manitoban-specific, but we realized it was too difficult so we had to broaden our choices to North America,” says Adams, adding they added avocados and salmon to their list of allowed foods. Among that list is: wild meat like bison, deer, elk, moose, duck, also wild rice, pumpkin, squash, potatoes, berries, sunflower seeds, popcorn and more.

K.C. Adams says the 'reclamation of well-being diet' means leaving off the sauce. (K.C. Adams)
November is diabetes awareness month. However, Adams didn’t choose this month to change her diet because of that, it was just a happy accident. Her mother has diabetes.

Health Canada has reported that First Nations people living on reserves have a rate of diabetes that is three to five times higher than that of other Canadians. 

“When I started this, I could feel those pre-diabetic stages … tired after eating, feeling lethargic all the time, my stomach was very large,” said Adams.

The well-regarded artist whose work creates awareness around a variety of issues produced an art project about diabetes. She travelled to Australia where she photographed indigenous people and their body parts that are affected by diabetes. She then superimposed images of sugar, lard and flour over them. The work is called The Gift that Keeps on Giving.

“It’s a critical look at the foods that we are eating and how it affects our culture,” explains Adams.

She says that her and her friends will look at taking this month-long diet and create an art project but haven’t quite decided what it will be yet. They are documenting their journey on social media and through personal journals.

Adams says she has seen several changes in her body, even in the first few days of changing her diet. She has more energy and her clothes fit better. Although she misses chocolate and coffee a lot, Adams is considering extending her new way of eating through the winter holidays.

“This is actually going to be a lifestyle change for me. I may not be able to do it all the time because it’s actually really expensive,” said Adams.  “I want to spend the rest of my life without diabetes and not have to be on medications.”

Hear K.C. Adams on Unreserved, with host Rosanna Deerchild, on CBC Radio One after the 5 p.m. news in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, and after the 4 p.m. news in the Yukon and NWT. Or listen online. 


Kim Wheeler is an Anishinabe/Mohawk. She is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler currently works as an associate producer for the CBC Aboriginal Digital Unit and Unreserved on CBC Radio One.