Olympic champion Billy Mills is the guest of honor today, July 1, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Billy Mills (Makoce Pe’hila) Kickapoo Tribe Cross Country Park on the reservation in Horton, Kansas.
Mills met Steve Cadue, Kickapoo tribal chairman, in Germany in 1965, the year after Mills took gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 10,000 meter run. He is the only American to ever accomplish this feat, and just the second Native American to win an Olympic gold medal. When Mills and Cadue crossed paths the following year, Mills was racing again, and Cadue was cheering him on from the sidelines—“encouraging me in his own unique manner,” Mills said.
Now the pair have joined forces to reverse the trend of diabetes among Natives. With Mills’ support, Cadue has formed and incorporated the National American Indian Diabetes Foundation, Inc. The foundation’s website is anticipated to launch this summer and will provide more information about the campaign, which, among many initiatives, aims to raise awareness of the need to control diabetes and address the cause for the high incidence of the disease among Native peoples.
When Cadue approached Mills about creating the National American Indian Diabetes Foundation, Mills thought, “I was witnessing a man with a vision, extraordinary wisdom, heartstrings, understanding of our needs; and he also has a hidden ability—to foresee and help create our journey in defeating diabetes.”
The National American Indian Diabetes Foundation is building the Kickapoo Tribe’s cross-country course, which incorporates “the natural habitat that’s significant to the Kickapoo Nation,” Mills explained. The trail provides opportunities “to study the vegetation and learn about Mother Earth and plants” intrinsic to Kickapoo culture.
The characteristics of the winding, hilly trail also make it an ideal destination course for cross-country events.
But Cadue and Mills hope the trail—open to anyone who wants to exercise—brings much greater benefits to the Native community, like reducing the rates of diabetes and heart disease.
“Steve’s taken on one of the greatest challenges we face in America today and that is curbing diabetes,’’ Mills told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “Native Americans have made great strides in entrepreneurship, yet what good is entrepreneurial leverage and our place in America today if all our people die off?” Mills said. “Steve’s addressing the health of our people today and the health of our unborn for generations to come. This might be the greatest gift he’s given.’’
Cadue’s vision to reclaim Native health has garnered him a nomination for the Health and Human Services Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee—“a key position to further implement his dreams,” Mills said.
Mills himself is considered “borderline diabetic,” though he views himself as living with diabetes. “I’m type 2 diabetic and hypoglycemic, and I know the challenges of trying to be a champion [while managing the disease],” Mills said. “I’m conscious of my own life as a diabetic; I’m in total remission and under control. I became very excited about Cadue’s passion to address the mission” across Indian country.