“Aging Healthy through Song and Dance” was the theme for the National Indian Council on Aging’s (NICOA) biennial conference, celebrating 40 years of service to American Indian and Alaska Native elders. The conference took place September 13-15, 2016, in Niagara Falls, NY. More than 1,500 elders, stakeholders and aging network providers attended. NICOA acknowledges the Seneca Nation of Indians for co-hosting this dynamic conference.
During the event, voting member elders actively participated in caucus sessions representing each of the 12 NICOA regions; participated in the election of board members; summited aging specific resolutions; revised bylaws; and developed a collective aging policy agenda for NICOA to advocate for in Washington, D.C.
Keynote speakers from federal, state and tribal programs and departments provided program updates and listened to the aging needs of American Indian and Alaska Native elders. Edwin Walker, acting secretary for aging and acting administrator of the Administration for Community Living, was the opening keynote speaker, highlighting the Older Americans Act services at the federal level. NICOA acknowledges Cynthia LaCounte, Administration for Community Living/Administration on Aging, director of the Office for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Programs, and her staff for contributing workshops and technical support.
Dr. Bruce Finke, elder health consultant for the Indian Health Service (IHS) and IHS representative to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services, provided valuable input during the panel discussion on improving healthcare in Indian Country.
Robert Blancato, president of Matz, Blancato and Associates, an influential public policy and strategy consulting firm as well as American Society on Aging Board Chair, provided updates on the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and expected changes in the new administration.
Featured workshops included Mashell Sourjohn, Associate State Director of AARP Oklahoma, offering two presentations: Prepare to Care & Practical Home Fit Tips for Elders and Lifelong Disparities Among American Indian & Alaska Natives. Roberta Johnson of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community offered a workshop on dance for health. Uniting Nursing Homes in Tribal Excellence (UNITE) representative Andrea Barnes spoke on traditional foods in tribal nursing homes, while Wilson Wewa, Warm Springs tribal elder, presented “The Beat of a Different Drum”.
Attendees participated in other fun and lively activities, including nightly cultural festivities, the elder fashion show, silent auction, honoring veterans ceremony, recognition awards, and exhibitor booths.
NICOA has invited the presidential candidates to meet with NICOA elders to discuss their platforms on aging in Indian Country.
NICOA represents more than 484,000 American Indian and Alaska Native elders 55 years and older. The conference is the elders’ forum; the place to voice concerns and to receive up to date information and resources to help elders age at home and in their own communities. NICOA works closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor to advocate for grant funded programs and services such as Title VI Services for Native Americans (OAA Title VI), Indian Health Service, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, Senior Community Service Employment Program and others.
NICOA members provide recommendations on policies that are important to aging older Indians such as the Affordable Care Act/Indian Healthcare Improvement Act, Older Americans Act, Senior Community Service Employment for Older Americans – (OAA Title V), to mention only a few. Officials from federal, state and tribal services and departments are invited to listen, learn and share in the discussion about the successes and concerns impacting aging in Indian Country.
“I am excited about this year’s conference. We have so much support from the Seneca Nation of Indians, the local Tribal Area Agency on Aging office, and AARP. Thank you to our precious elders from across the country that have donated gifts, silent auction items, and volunteer time to make this year a spectacular event. I want to express my gratitude to all for your support. Our elders will delight in the activities and participate in advocacy efforts to help improve services in their communities.”