Her talk was delivered softly but it carried a loud message: Take better care of our elders.
Educator Leona Nielson gave one of the most poignant talks of the day Wednesday as she spoke to delegates at the Aging Well in Northern, Rural and Remote Communities at the Civic Centre about how her generation cared for the elderly.
“Where I come from in Saskatchewan, we looked after our elders really well. They weren’t sent to an old folks’ home,” she said. What little they had in their community, they shared so that life was easier for the older ones.
“We didn’t have running water, we had to chop wood and pack it in for them. There was only one store in the community, so we’d make a list and go and get groceries for them. I didn’t know how to spell very well .. and I remember once drawing a picture of little fish on my list so I would remember to get sardines,” she said, laughing at the fond memory.
The elders she helped were not her relatives, she said.
“I didn’t have grandparents, so I adopted some.”
Nielson said they took elders to visit family in places like Edmonton and Saskatchewan.
“We would travel with them and help them get around in their wheelchairs or canes that we got from the (Canadian) Red Cross.”
Elders sick in hospital were visited regularly and brought something from their homes “to make them feel more comfortable.”
It was not always easy in smaller, remote communities to care for the aged, she said, recalling how she found one of her elders, a heavy woman, who had been stuck, alone in the bathtub, for most of the day waiting for help.
“She stayed there from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. when I found her. By that time she was cold. I lifted her onto a stool. After that, I told her to keep the phone beside her,” she said noting that many communities have no phones.
Nielson knows from her work with Prince George Native Friendship Centre as a Culture teacher for Headstart program, the many challenges that face First Nations people.
She’s also aware of cross-cultural barriers from her experience as a teacher of the Cree language at UNBC since 1996 (she also teaches Elders and children in the community and teaches Cree culture and language to elementary and high schools).
She keeps old traditions and customs alive by teaching about traditional plants and making crafts such as moccasins, dream catchers, drums, rattles and ribbon shirts.