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This article was published 24/10/2015 (1489 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Garden Hill First Nation's arena reopens next month, there won't be chips, chocolate bars or pop for sale.
The fly-in community, which has high rates of diabetes, has banished unhealthy snacks from its canteen.
"We have to do this," said Mark Barkman, Garden Hill KEC Arena's manager since it opened in 2000. "I have nephews in their 20s and they have diabetes already," he said.
The chief and council and arena board agreed to replace the canteen menu with healthier fare.
"We had a meeting and they said, 'We have to stop selling kids chips and pop. It's killing us,' " said Shaun Loney, with Aki Energy, a Winnipeg social enterprise that works in the community.
'We have to do this. I have nephews in their 20s and they have diabetes already'— Mark Barkman, manager of Garden Hill KEC Arena (above), which is banning unhealthy snacks when it opens next month
This year, it started Meechim Farm, which grows and sells Garden Hill's own produce, poultry and fish. The farm is going to help supply the food for the canteen: chicken soup and chicken sandwiches.
There will be trail mix, fruit, vegetables, juice and water. "I don't know if everyone will be happy with the changes," Barkman said. "But we need to do this. It was a good idea."
First Nations residents have a rate of diabetes that's three to five times higher than that of other Canadians. In Manitoba, the prevalence of diabetes among indigenous people was about four times the rate for 20- to 65-year-olds.
Health Canada has blamed the high rate of diabetes on risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating patterns.
Every day after school during cold-weather months at Garden Hill, as many as 100 kids converge on the KEC Arena for public skating, Barkman said. The arena is widely used by the First Nation's 5,000 residents and two neighbouring First Nations, he said.
The young and growing community now has five Grade 1 classes and five kindergarten classes, Loney said.
While many provinces face declining populations and labour shortages, Manitoba has a wealth of human resource potential in its growing indigenous population, the Conference Board of Canada and Statistics Canada say.
Loney said investment is needed.
"Connecting people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done — we have to find a way to do that," he said. "If we don't find a way for the aboriginal community to access the labour market we're going to have big problems."
Garden Hill's Meechim Farm is part of a plan to help the community — which has high unemployment and a high cost of living — help its people and gain control over its future.
"We're pretty excited about it as a model across the north," Loney said.
"The diabetes problem isn't really strictly about food," he said. "There's the lack of any kind of local economy. To change the food system, you have to change the local economy. That's what we're doing, piece by piece."
Importing less and doing more to make healthy food available to growing kids is a start, he said.
"(Diabetes) is removing hope from people's lives. They're at the mercy of a disease. The farm was an incredible source of hope this past year."
Locals got jobs and learned how and what would grow in the northern community, he said.
The low-cost chicken and eggs and locally caught fish gave residents food security and replaced pricey imports, Loney said.
The fish co-op has exported 100,000 pounds of fish from the community to southern markets.
The provincial government put up $300,000 to start the farm and market at Garden Hill, Loney said.
With 500 diabetics in Garden Hill, he sees it as an investment in preventative medicine.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.