It's Reconciliation Week and this is Cecelia's story

[supplied by Diabetes WA]

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Image: supplied

Cecelia Tigan, a Bardi Jawi woman from the Kimberley, first diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, now lives with type 2 diabetes worries about the future of Aboriginal children in her community.

Diabetes WA recognises the impact colonisation, and our history has had on our First Nations peoples and their burdens with diabetes. Diabetes WA is raising awareness of the silent pandemic of intergenerational diabetes, the second highest cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, impacting Aboriginal children disproportionally leading to high rates of diabetes in youth and even death. We begin with Gestational Diabetes and Cecelia’s story.

Cecelia ‘Lala’ Tigan, traditionally known as Jidmaarnjoon is a proud Bardi Jawi woman from the Djarindjin community in Dampier Peninsula, 200 kilometres from Broome. Cecelia was first diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes (GDM) when she was pregnant with her fourth child in her early thirties.

With Gestational Diabetes women are 10 times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes within 5-10 years after birth. The risks are even higher for Aboriginal women who are four times at risk of developing GDM and type 2 diabetes. After giving birth, there was no 5-10 year gap, for Cecilia, her diabetes stayed.

She has lived with type 2 diabetes for 15 years and takes medication and injects insulin once a day. As mother and a teacher’s assistant working at a local school, Cecelia not only worries about her own diabetes, she worries about the children in her community and the unhealthy eating culture these kids are surrounded by. There is evidence that Aboriginal children are impacted more aggressively and are eight times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-indigenous children.

“Where we live, we have junk food surrounding us, the things kids buy from stores is ridiculous,” Cecilia said. “Here you can even see, our next generations, kids eating lollies before they can even walk.”

Children of GDM mothers are also at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in youth, continuing the cycle of diabetes throughout the generations.

With diabetes, comes other complications like diabetes-related foot problems and diabetic peripheral neuropathy which are among the most severe and frequent complications of diabetes and a big concern for Aboriginal communities. Living with aggressive diabetes, it wasn’t long before Cecelia developed foot ulcers and almost had an amputation.

Diabetes WA has made it part of their strategic direction to work under the leadership of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and build an Aboriginal Health Workforce of Diabetes Educators and Telehealth Aboriginal Support Workers to provide culturally secure diabetes care.


General Manager of Health Services Deborah Schofield said the key is to focus on community co-design measures and break the intergenerational cycle of diabetes in pregnancy as early as possible.

“This is a complicated problem, there are no quick-fixes, but we have to start somewhere – we begin with empowering women with awareness and listen to what they need to diagnose and manage their diabetes early and promote life-long healthy eating habits in their children early, as young women and mothers,” Deborah said.

“Aboriginal women especially in remote areas find out they have GDM during pregnancy when they may have already been living with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes without even knowing it.”

“We’ve started the work, but we want to make it bigger and better, and this is why we need to see more funding in this area, we also want to enable mothers and daughters with the knowledge of the risks of GDM and type 2 diabetes way before pregnancy, especially in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities that are very high-risk.”

Diabetes WA is yarning this week, telling different stories to share the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people living with diabetes in Western Australia.


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