The Special Diabetes Program for Indians Diabetes Prevention Demonstration Project at the Kenaitze Indian Tribe is located in Kenai, Alaska. Kenai is in south-central Alaska, and lies on the shores of Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Kenai River on the beautiful Kenai Peninsula. Tribal members number over 1,200, and many live on the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage. Program staff include a project director/coordinator, lead recruiter, lead educator, and data manager.
Program staff members are very proud that they have had no participant conversions to diabetes, and over half of their participants’ blood sugar levels have lowered from prediabetes range down to normal range.
The program includes a variety of culturally specific elements which are important to its success. It incorporates traditional activities, such as salmon canning, berry picking, and a tribal net fishing activity, to make the program relevant to the daily lives of the participants. The staff has also determined nutritional values for local traditional foods and taught the healthy preparation of these foods in cooking classes.
Wall murals depicting culturally relevant and familiar images make the program’s facility welcoming. The “Yaghali Ch’ulane” mural represents the cycle of life through healthy living. Small paddles, with the name of each program participant, are placed on the mural. Participants begin their journeys at the entrance of the Kenai River, and their paddles advance on the river as they come to the DPP Lifestyle Balance Program sessions (Core activities) and meet individual goals. Time is spent with participants to outline three or four goals towards which they want to paddle. Goals are focused on stress management, exercise, and low-fat foods, and emphasis is placed on gradual success at the individual level.
The “Kilaqa” mural represents life’s journey, traveling down the river’s direction. The mural is applied in the DPP program through sharing and storytelling–an important part of the participants' cultures. When participants come to the maintenance (After-Core) activities, they share important parts of their lives with staff and group members. Their stories guide them in the direction of the mural interpretation. Remembering the knowledge that they learned in the Core DPP sessions stands as part of their journey up the mountain and accomplishment of individual goals.
KIT Educational Fishery began operation in June 1989 with an Educational Permit issued by the state of Alaska. Each season, the state allows the tribe to set two nets at traditional fishing sites. The fishery has become the center of the tribe's programs during the summer. Its users learn traditional methods of setting nets, ways to identify different salmon, and the process for cleaning and preserving fish for the winter. The Educational Fishery has become an important component of the DPP by promoting healthy lifestyles for the tribal families. The Educational Fishery also brings a sense of unity to the tribe, as well as ensuring that the cultural and traditional values of the Kenaitze People will survive the many changes of the world.
- The program has high retention and low drop-out rates for participants in both its Core and After-Core programs. This is due to staff members taking care to maintain ongoing and regular individual contact with all the participants.
- Staff members have earned a high degree of trust within the community. Three of the four staff members are Alaska Natives from the community, and all are looked on positively and are well-liked by community members.
- Staff members are willing to meet participants’ needs by going the extra mile, such as rearranging schedules, making up sessions at participants’ convenience, and offering classes at places of work and participants’ homes. This willingness and flexibility is cited as one of the keys to the program’s successful recruitment and retention rates.
- Strong clinic support and collaborative efforts with other agencies have enabled the program to expand and share resources. This further allows the program to reach more people and demonstrate to them the value of integrating healthy habits into more areas of their lives.