Members of his family and friends have suffered and died from the complications of diabetes and Lower Kootenay Band Chief Jason Louie wants to help put a stop to the suffering.
On Friday morning, Louie will climb on a bike in Bonners Ferry and start out his ride home by crossing the bridge over the Kootenay River and making the long uphill climb toward Three Mile.
He won’t be raising money, just awareness.
“This ride was inspired as tribute to my mentor, Chief Raymond Abraham of the Kootenai Tribe in Bonners Ferry,” Louie said on Friday.
Abraham, a hereditary chief, died five years ago from diabetes complications.
“It was a huge loss for our nation,” he said. “For me, personally, he took me under his wing. I know now that he was mentoring a future leader.”
Louie witnesses the effects of diabetes every day. His wife, Angie, is one of many Lower Kootenay Band members to suffer from the disease.
“It requires a huge lifestyle change,” he said. “A more active life and better diet, for instance.”
In the 1970s, Louie said, Abraham declared a peaceful war on the United States in an effort to bring attention to the appalling conditions many First Nations people lived, and continue to live, in.
“It will be very meaningful for me when I ride across the Bonners Ferry bridge, then start up the hill,” Louie said. “That hill is very symbolic of the uphill climb that occurs when a person is diagnosed with diabetes.” For symbolic reasons, too, he said cool, rainy weather would only add to the message he wants to deliver.
On his ride, Louie will be joined by two others from Lower Kootenay, and he said the support from the Creston business community has been heartening.
In preparation for the 58-kilometre ride, he has been training almost daily since December. Workouts at the Creston Fitness Centre have provided a camaraderie he has come to enjoy in his early morning sessions. And the gym has donated a one-year gym pass that will given out as a prize during National Aboriginal Day festivities on Friday.
Pharmasave’s Mike Ramaradhya and Jodie McBlain have been “incredibly generous,” he said. “I asked for a small donation like diabetes testing strips and they came back to me with a one-year pass to the Creston and District Community Complex fitness centre. I didn’t know what to say.”
After training for months on a heavy mountain bike, he is grateful to Nadan Nessie Gear, Canyon Street’s outdoor equipment retailer and renter, which is giving him “a great deal” on the use of a lightweight road bike.
“I am truly grateful for their support on what I see as a small scale awareness ride,” he said. “I was a supply tech in the Canadian Armed Forces and my job was to be a lifeline to the troops, getting them whatever they needed. Now others are taking on the same role for me.”
Prevention is key to Louie’s message.
“When I look around my community, there aren’t many old men,” he said. “I want to live long enough to become an elder and a grandfather, but I know I have to work to get there.
He and his co-riders will set out from Bonners Ferry at 7 a.m. and he plans to arrive before noon, during the Aboriginal Day celebration, which runs from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Events will include a teepee-raising contest, fry bread-making competition, storytelling in a tipi, a traditional lunch, crafts booths, pine needle basket-making and a round dance.
“I am ready for anything I encounter on Friday — let it rain or snow!” he said. “Then we are going to celebrate.”