Native Americans have the highest risk for diabetes among all U.S. racial and ethnic groups, making prevention programs a necessity. The Citizen Potawatomi Program, Beginning Education About Diabetes (BEAD), helps tribal citizens manage the diseases and take control of their lives. Cindy Peltier is responsible for the program, but it took a hurricane to get her here.
Peltier joined the Citizen Potawatomi Nation eight years ago after she was forced to evacuate from Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. A resident of New Orleans for her entire life, Katrina was the first hurricane that Peltier even considered leaving for.
“I’d lived in New Orleans for more than 60 years and had been through hundreds of hurricanes,” said Peltier. “Based on what the weathermen were saying, I knew that we had to evacuate, but we only planned to be gone for a week.”
The storm was weak when it hit the Florida coast, but then upgraded as it crossed the Gulf. Peltier decided on Friday evening that she and her husband needed to evacuate. Hurricane Katrina hit on Monday.
The path of the storm was so large that they had to travel all the way to Shawnee to find a place to stay. Peltier and her husband had family to stay with for a short time. A week turned into two weeks and then into three. More than a month after the hurricane the Peltier’s were allowed to return home.
“When we were able to return home we got pneumonia from all the mold damage,” added Peltier. “Everything we’d left had mold damage and the smell from death and rotten food was overwhelming.”
Peltier and her husband salvaged what they could and headed back to Oklahoma, this time forever.
“The trip from New Orleans to Shawnee took 30 hours and there wasn’t a place to stop for the night between there and Jefferson Texas,” said Peltier. “We’d take turns sleeping in the parking lot of a large store. One of us would sleep for 20 minutes and the other would stand guard because of the looters.”
The hospital where Peltier worked had taken in evacuees and, for the time, has closed her section of the hospital. No job meant that she had to look for work elsewhere. She began working in the clinics for CPN and eventually found her home with the diabetes prevention program. Peltier has been a nurse since 1984.
Peltier is a self-described Cajun with an agenda and loves traditional Cajun food. She will retire from the CPN diabetes program in January and plans to visit family and go to Mardi Gras.