It’s been over a year that we in Indian Country endured a massive pandemic that engulfed our country, our lands and our people. It tried us and made us wonder if we would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. We see it now; we can feel it and we openly wonder what that “new world” is going to look like. Above all, we made it and we are still here.
We have lost many to this pandemic and we now know what is important – our people. We learned that our histories, our cultures, our traditions and our languages are priceless and that we need to protect and preserve them for future generations. And where does this knowledge, wisdom and experience reside? Our elders. They are our walking, breathing encyclopedias. To the many tribal leaders, community leaders and program staff, our gratitude goes out to you for the many hours you spent in taking care of our elders.
We, at the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA), are not satisfied with going back to “normal” (whatever that may look like). We want to make sure that life for our elders is better than it was before the pandemic. Many tribes went to extraordinary lengths to ensure our elders were protected by prioritizing them as community members; programs were revised, and tribal infrastructures were modified to be more responsive to the needs of elders.
We encourage tribes to seriously consider maintaining these modifications and not return to pre-pandemic processes and systems. We found that the changes worked and that by prioritizing our elders’ needs and safety, we made a better “mouse trap.” We encourage and support tribal leaders as they help to ensure that these programmatic changes are made permanent at the federal level by advocating that we not return to pre-pandemic rules, regulations and policies.
We need to ensure that our elders take advantage of the vaccines that have been developed and administered. According to the scientific literature and studies, it is safe and protects those who are vaccinated. By taking the vaccines, elders can once again venture out of their homes and communities and participate in the world around them. They can attend ceremonies, visit friends, see their families and attend events and gatherings.
NICOA will be holding our biennial American Indian Elders Conference on August 1-6, 2021 in Reno, Nevada – an event which many of our elders attend and have made friends from around the country. They can learn new things by attending the workshops and get an opportunity to put the pandemic behind them for six days.
The conference provides hope, enjoyment and renewal of spirit. We hope that tribes and tribal leadership are supportive and sensitive to the needs of our elders who, once again, must renew and re-energize themselves to face the new world we will be entering. We hope to see old friends and make new friends and colleagues in Reno, Nevada this year. Resilience together; we made it and together we will move forward. Thank you for your continuing support and our prayers go out for those we lost in the past year.