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Episode 76: Ouzinkie’s Recipe for Success

By KTVA Alaska 4:48 PM October 10, 2016


Every time we travel to a Rural community, no matter how tough the circumstances, there is always something to inspire me, to make me smile.

Usually, it’s the kids — so full of energy, so curious about our camera gear, so determined to become a part of our story.

They definitely were a big part of the story during our fall trip to Ouzinkie, a small island community north of Kodiak. You see them make angels in the sand, show us a path in the woods and hear about the community’s efforts to head off diabetes.

This summer, the Ouzinkie Health Clinic launched the “Alutiiq Challenge,” a ten-week program to encourage kids to get more exercise.

Kids were given tickets for physical activities like swimming and hiking. They also received them when they did chores for elders, which turned out to be a big hit with both the kids and the elders.

These tickets earned them prizes at the end of the challenge.

One boy named Robbie earned more than 400 tickets. He was a big winner, not because of the prizes but because of the lifestyle changes he made over the course of the program.

Robbie also bonded with an elder named Martin Squartsoff.  Even though the challenge is over, he continues to do chores for Martin, who in turn teaches him about the subsistence way of life.

Robbie, like many kids in Ouzinkie, is at risk of diabetes. The health clinic estimates that 20 percent of the community has diabetes or pre-diabetes, and more than half are obese. With high rates of heart attack and stroke in Ouzinkie, the “Alutiiq Challenge” turned into a life or death matter.

Some of the highlights of this week’s show:

  • Photojournalist Will Mader follows the kids around Ouzinkie, as they show us what they learned from the “Alutiiq Challenge.” It wasn’t easy for Will to keep up with those kids, but he did a wonderful job of showing us Ouzinkie through their eyes.
  • We also look at the role of the subsistence culture in diabetes prevention.
  • Our guests are Judith Thompson and Dr. Gary Ferguson with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Thompson is a pharmacist and diabetes director for ANTHC. Ferguson is Aleut, or Unanagan, and a naturopathic physician – a big believer in the power of culture to heal.

Thanks to volunteers and organizations, which donated money for the prizes. Ouzinkie’s Alutiiq Challenge was relatively inexpensive for all that it accomplished. In fact, it may serve as a model for other communities in the Kodiak region.

Hope you will find inspiration in tiny Ouzinkie’s efforts and enjoy Will Mader’s footage, which showcases the beauty of Spruce Island, across the water from Kodiak.

Special thanks to Dean Miller, for giving us rides from location to location, as well as Trina Squartsoff, director of the clinic, and Genny Miller, a dedicated health aide, who helped to connect us to the community.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Martin Squartsoff’s name. This has been amended.

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