Written by Jenna McDavid, Communications & Logistics Associate, Diverse Elders Coalition.
This past week, I had the great honor of attending the National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. Conference, in Niagara Falls, NY, in celebration of their 40th Anniversary. The event brought together over 1300 people representing numerous bands and tribes from the United States and Canada, showcasing the resilience of and challenges facing American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities as they age. Three full days of panel discussions, workshops, a traditional meal, and dancing allowed us to learn from one another and take pride in Native heritage and tribal identity.
(PHOTO: Seneca dancers at the NICOA Conference. Photo courtesy of Carmenza Millan – via Twitter).
Though the NICOA Conference has been held every two years since NICOA’s founding in 1976, this was my first time attending the conference. I was floored by the number of people in attendance, and how far some of them had traveled to be there – a few attendees were on my flight from Seattle, and I recognized them when I arrived at the conference center in Niagara Falls. Others came from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia, and California. The spirit of community – and community pride – was incredibly strong throughout the week’s events. It was a powerful reminder that our communities are strong, resilient, and full of love.
Each morning of the conference began with a prayer and a panel discussion in the enormous exhibition hall. The panels – one of which featured another coalition member: Michael Adams, CEO and President of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) – touched on various aspects of aging, including elder abuse, caregiving, and policies that impact the lives of LGBT AI/AN elders. The NICOA board members encouraged civic engagement among their communities, imploring the elders in attendance to contact their members of Congress and demand better funding and improved services for AI/AN elders both on and off Indian lands. Randella Bluehouse, Executive Director of NICOA, praised the recent success of the Diverse Elders Coalition’s #TellACL campaign, noting that hundreds of NICOA supporters had submitted their comments to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) about the need for the ACL to address the unique concerns of aging in AI/AN communities.
I loved being a part of this inspiring and information conference. Thanks so much to NICOA for having me, and for all of the work that NICOA staff and supporters put into making this such a successful and fulfilling experience for attendees!
(PHOTO: Seneca Nation veterans lead the morning color guard)