For this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), several BC Community Response Networks (CRNs) took a pledge on June 15 to end elder abuse. They shared information on community resources, hosted breakfasts and luncheons with seniors, and held several in-person and online events. In among the celebration, the purple flags and lights, and iris flower, an Indigenous CRN in one of the oldest communities in northern BC flipped the narrative.
In speaking with health directors and frontline service providers in seven communities, it was clear to the Wii O’om’ niin CRN in Hazelton, BC, that the vernacular of WEAAD contradicted Indigenous health and wellness principles and practices.
“Indigenous peoples are survivors of generations of trauma caused by colonialism,” says Belinda Lacombe, Regional Mentor – North Western BC. “There was no interest in talking about or sharing anything that contained language that caused harm to members and triggered anyone to become avoidant of community supports and services.”
“They asked for an approach that focused on love, connection to land, sovereignty, and culture,” says CRN Coordinator Marilyn Brown. “This isn’t a new request, and it is a clear assertion of the type of service and support that is welcome in Gitxsan Territories.”
On June 12, a few days before WEAAD, the Wii O’om’niin CRN chose to share a message of love for elders and seniors everywhere, acknowledging what they have survived, and honouring their continued contributions to the Nation and the world.
“World Elder BIG LOVE Awareness Day” was celebrated with fresh batches of medicine tea made of rose, wild raspberry and spruce tip; songs to pay tribute to land, animals, and people; and stories of strength and resilience during tough times.
(The tea was made onsite by traditional medicine knowledge holders Ross Fire Squirrel Chaser McRae and Lorraine Baby Skin Half. “It’s a cleansing tonic we take in the springtime to not get sick in the summer,” says Ross.)
“I think we had between 60 to 70 people join the celebration in person…it was so busy, I lost count,” says Marilyn. “Many who visited were frontline workers, local elders, and local youth who were interested in growing big love in the nation.”
With the event also live-streamed on social media, the conversation on big love continued beyond territory borders.
Some of the ideas shared on how to nurture big love included:
- Working with a decolonized approach that rests in our people’s love of land, culture, and sovereignty.
- Removing the colonial focus on what is wrong and bringing forward all that is right about our people.
- Uncovering traditional ways of relating and caring for our elders.
- Acknowledging rites of passage for youth and elders through ceremony.
- Bringing elders forward as knowledge holders and experts on what can be done to reduce colonial fallout in the community.
- Sharing the importance of land-based approaches and of access to local medicines and traditional medicine knowledge holders.
- Making space for our leaders to share powerful land medicines through discussion and shining a light on what people are doing to create a strong community.
“The event raised people’s awareness of our community’s strengths: safety, love, validation, inclusion, care, celebration, culture, honour, independence,” Marilyn explains. “It’s a powerful message that was felt by all.”
“We are connected, and we are all part of one collective,” adds Belinda. “Big love is important. Adult abuse prevention is also important. There is room to hold both the Western and Indigenous perspectives if we make the space for it.”
Join the Wii O’om’ niin CRN on Facebook to learn more about their work and get involved in the conversation. Follow the Magical Backyard Medicines Facebook group for more on traditional land-based medicines.
(All photos: Wii O’om’ niin CRN Facebook, Magical Backyard Medicines Facebook)