The Path to Self-Care: Using film to explore the gift of diabetes

The Gift of Diabetes is an award winning film that explores the ongoing impacts of colonization and historical trauma on mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. As the film opens, we learn that Ojibway filmmaker Brion Whitford has not taken any steps to manage the diabetes he has lived with for many years. He now faces serious complications. During a visit to an Elder, Whitford learns about the Medicine Wheel, a tool used by some Aboriginal communities to explain the interconnectedness of four dimensions of health: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. With this new understanding, Whitford sets out to come to terms with his history, identity and illness as a First Nations man. Sadly, Whitford passed away unexpectedly at age 50, a year after the film was released.

In 2009, the film was used by Nipissing First Nation in a creative diabetes prevention initiative supported by the Northern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative. Over the course of the program, adult and youth participants were engaged in reflective discussion designed to promote healthy lifestyle changes by coming to terms with negative feelings related to personal and multi-generational experiences. Dinner and a talking circle followed the film screening. Claire Campbell, a Diabetes Nurse Educator with Nipissing First Nation Health Services, was involved with the initiative and describes its impact on participants. “It was moving for participants to learn about one man’s personal journey to accept the disease and begin self-care,” she says. It was also important to participants that traditional approaches to health played a central role in his path to recovery.

The film, The Gift of Diabetes, can be viewed through the National Film Board website at: