Earlier this month, I had the privilege of traveling to Norman, Oklahoma for the American Indian and Alaska Native White House Conference on Aging Listening Session, where I heard directly from tribal leaders, elders, their families, caregivers, and advocates on how to best address the current aging landscape in Indian Country. Hosted in partnership with the National Indian Council on Aging, over 100 individuals convened for the forum and were undeterred by threats of severe weather, including tornadoes.
Approximately 31 Tribal Nations from the states of Arizona, Alaska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Washington were represented, and many of the participants discussed the Conference’s four key areas: long-term services and supports, retirement security, elder justice, and healthy aging. For example, Dianne Parker Herald, a member of the Cherokee Nation, advocated for increased awareness of elder abuse in Indian Country, and for enhanced services for victims of abuse and their families.
Joseph Ray, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico highlighted the importance of healthy aging, particularly for older adults with disabilities. He spoke positively about the services he receives from his local Center for Independent Living, which are community-based, cross-disability, non-profit organizations that are designed and operated by people with disabilities.
Tara Barton, President Wichita Affiliated Tribes, was among many of the participants who addressed the importance of a having a comprehensive system of long-term services and supports in Indian Country. She reinforced that many tribal elders, like older adults throughout the United States, prefer to live at home or in the community, but this is often challenging given the lack of access to long-term supports and services. She also reinforced the importance of state and local partnerships, a point that was later illustrated by Charlie LaSarge, a member of the Muskogee Creek tribe who described an innovative grant program with the Oklahoma Department of Health Services that supports tribes as they work to increase transportation options for tribal elders.
Lastly, Lillian Thomas, who manages the tribally-funded Muskogee Creek Social Security Program stressed the need for Social Security to collaborate closely with Tribes and tribal elders to resolve some of the complicated retirement issues in Indian Country. Many older tribal elders have lived on a bare minimum economically, or made and sold crafts for an income, which did not provide for retirement benefits.
Tribal elders are the anchor and foundation of Indian Country. As the White House Conference on Aging approaches this summer, we urge everyone to share your comments, thoughts, and ideas in the Get Involved section of this website. Your input will be used to continue to inform the work of this year’s conference. We look forward to hearing from you.
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