Keeping our Nlaka’pamux Elders at Home
Approximately 50 per cent of First Nations people older than 65 are living with frailty. This is almost double the national average. What this means is that the normal concerns about older people being vulnerable to falls, injuries or even simple social isolation are magnified when it comes to Indigenous seniors.
The Canadian Frailty Network has funded several projects designed to assist and support Indigenous people in caring for their Elders. One such project is called Keeping our Nlaka’pamux Elders at Home. Five Nlaka’pamux communities in British Columbia are working collaboratively on the project. Anne Cochran is the project coordinator, and she says the title of the initiative pretty much says it all.
“The whole point of all of this is that we want to keep Nlaka’pamux seniors at home. We want them to remain within their communities for as long as possible. Many of these rural areas don’t have the residential resources to meet the needs of their seniors. As a result, all it takes is a fall and their world changes. If an injury prevents them from remaining in their homes, they have no choice but to leave their communities, their families, and everything that they know to get the level of support they need. They just diminish. They don’t do well.”
This project supports three primary initiatives. The first addresses social activity and knowledge sharing in the form of monthly nkshAytkn gatherings. “nkshAytkn” is an Nlaka’pamux expression connoting ‘community’, and these events engage Elders by providing them with opportunities to gather, to share their knowledge, skills and experience, and to collectively remember traditional practices. Young people also attend and learn from the teachings of the Elders about topics ranging from traditional hunting and fishing practices, as well as cultural heritage and place.
A second initiative focuses on physical activity and is called ElderAction. This is a program that encourages seniors to socialize, exercise, and engage in seasonal activities within the territory they call home. It also provides them with opportunities to learn more about, and engage in, activities that will maintain their good health.
It’s my people, you know. It’s my people. I want to see them thrive, be strong, and live at home as long as possible.
The third initiative is all about home safety. The Home Improvement Program supports adaptations to seniors’ homes, such as installing grab bars, railings, ramps, moving washers and dryers to a main floor. These and other adaptations make it easier for seniors to continue to live in their homes with reduced risk of falling.
“Top of mind for us with these initiatives has been to scale-up work already being done in local Indigenous communities,” says Dr. John Muscedere, Scientific Director & CEO, Canadian Frailty Network. “We recognize the need for Indigenous autonomy when it comes to taking care of the health of Elders with frailty. These initiatives were all co-created or co-designed in close partnership with Indigenous community members.”
This project is particularly exciting in that it strives to improve the lives of older community members through collaboration among health providers, community leaders, and Elders to keep Nlaka’pamux older adults at home and as active members of their community.
Lee-Anne Hunsbedt is the Health Manager of Fraser Thompson Indian Services Society. She is also a member of the Nlaka’pamux First Nation. For her, the best part of this initiative is getting Elders out and about, and interacting with young people.
“They share stories about when they were young and the kinds of activities they engaged in. So, they’re actually not only moving around and socializing, but they are telling us stories about what they used to do or how they used to do it. It’s almost a form of storytelling. I really love that the Elders are teaching the young as well. It makes this all so worthwhile.”
Lorraine Campbell, a member of the Boston Bar First Nation, has been a participant in the programming since 2015, and thoroughly enjoys the services offered. “I loved the yoga classes that were offered, and I am still doing the yoga and exercises that I learned.” After a stay in the hospital, Lorraine returned home with reduced mobility unable to negotiate stairs. She is grateful for the home amendment program that sent a carpenter to her home to relocate her washer and dryer to main level of her home. “That really helped. Also, the carpenter is mentoring young people from our community. In fact, one of the young ladies from our community is now in school studying to become a carpenter. I love this program.”
They share stories about when they were young and the kinds of activities they engaged in. So, they’re actually not only moving around and socializing, but they are telling us stories about what they used to do or how they used to do it.
The idea behind all three of these initiatives, of course, is to make it easier for Nlaka’pamux seniors to stay at home. It is to enhance their strength and mobility, to reinforce their social connections, and make their homes safer places to be. Underlying all of it also is a determination to share the benefits of this project, so that other communities – all communities across Canada – can adopt these successful approaches.
“This should be just a given thing. It shouldn’t be just a project. And that’s what we’re hoping, is to eventually make it sustainable throughout,” says Hunsbedt. “It’s my people, you know. It’s my people. I want to see them thrive, be strong, and live at home as long as possible.”
Meet the Team
My name is Lorraine Campbell, and I am a member of Boston Bar First Nation. I have been a part of the Elder programming since 2015 and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the yoga classes that were offered, and I am still doing the yoga and exercises that I learned. One of the resources that I particularly like are the calendars. Each month in the calendar features a different Elder and it has been so good to see their pictures. Some of those Elders have since passed and it is nice to look at the calendars and remember. I still use the magnet and pen I received for writing down my appointments. And the home amendment program has been really helpful. After a stay in the hospital, I was not able to walk far, let alone go up and down stairs. Through this project, a carpenter was sent to my home and he relocated my washer and dryer upstairs. That really helped. Now I am using a walker and not able to use stairs at all, but I’m still walking! And the carpenter is mentoring young people from our community. In fact, one of the young ladies from our community is now in school studying to become a carpenter. I love this program.
Hello, my name is Debbie Abbott. I am a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, an elected councillor of Lytton First Nation, and the Executive Director of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council. Nlaka’pamux health and well-being is my passion and I have worked throughout my life to promote both. In addition to working with families, children and Elders in the community, I sit on numerous committees and boards, do political advocacy work, and support cultural well-being through initiatives like our Nlaka’pamux nkshAytkn gatherings. This year the Frailty Network has supported our nkshAytkn gatherings and, in doing so, has made it possible for our Elders to gather and share their experiences, language, culture and traditions. It has also provided opportunities for our Elders to remain active and to remain safely within their homes. ‘quequshchAmuh’
My name is Sonia Singh. I work as a hospital physician, osteoporosis specialist and researcher based at Peace Arch Hospital in the Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia. I am also a Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia. I hold a research fellowship from the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation to champion research that is relevant to older adults in the areas of wellness, physical activity, fracture and fall prevention. I have been honoured to engage with the Nlaka’pamux communities in the Fraser Canyon in participatory research and it has been such an enriching experience for me as a researcher and health provider. I have learned so much from the incredible elders and community leaders involved in a series of projects over the last 10 years that have focused on empowering Elders to stay healthy. The funding provided by the Canadian Frailty Network in the current project: Keeping our Nlaka’pamux Elders at Home, has provided the means to further develop initiatives to support Elders to stay safe in their homes, to stay connected with each other, to their land and culture, and to stay healthy through physical activity. These activities have been even more vital during the challenging COVID pandemic.
Greetings! My name is Anne Cochran and I have been working with the Nlaka’pamux Tribal Council and Nlaka’pamux Services Society in health, education, and services for children and families since 1989. Over the past 12 years we have focused particular attention on supports and services for Elders and we have had the good fortune of forming some wonderful relationships with health providers, health authorities, and funders. Our programming has organically grown out of needs identified by Nlaka’pamux Elders and we have been able to proactively address everything from falls and injury prevention, to home adaptations, to Elder activity programming. It has been my honour to work with the Elders, the communities, the leadership, and some very fine health partners. Many thanks to the Frailty Network for assisting us in continuing this good work.
My name is Vicky Scott and I am a Clinical Professor at the School of Population and Public Health with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of BC. It has been my pleasure and an honour to be invited to participate in the Keeping our Nlaka’pamux Elders at Home project, funded by the Canadian Frailty Network. I have been involved with other fall prevention and health promotion projects with the Nlaka’pamux communities over the past ten years and am always impressed by the high regard and strong support for older adults in these communities. This project is particularly exciting in that it strives to improve the lives of older community members through collaboration among health providers, community leaders, and Elders to keep Nlaka’pamux older adults at home and as active members of their community. The programming is community driven and provides practical strategies that reflect the needs and lifestyles of the local seniors, including enhancing home safety through modifications and adaptations and improving opportunities for meaningful and relevant physical and social activity.
Lee Anne Hunsbedt
Hello my Nlaka’pamux name is QUmEEmeema (little one) and my non-Indigenous name is Lee Anne Hunsbedt. I have the honour of living in the territory of my people, the Nlaka’pamux, and residing in my home community of Skuppah Indian Band. I have been the Health Manager for the Fraser Thompson Indian Services Society and Nlaka’pamux Services Society for the past 10 years and while I have worked on many initiatives over the years, the Elder’s programs are the nearest and dearest to my heart. The funding provided through the Frailty Network contributes to our goal of keeping our Elders safe and healthy and ensuring that they remain within their communities. Our consortium started out more than 10 years ago and we continue to listen to the communities, respond to their needs, and provide programs that address the issues that our Elders identify. That is valuable work and I raise my hands to the Elders, the communities, and those who have helped bring these projects to fruition.