In Indigenous society, we are often told everything we need is within our community. As a young woman I was disconnected from my language, my family and my community. Now that I am older, I am learning there are advocates to the Indigenous people, who work with us and can help us without changing who we are.
I am 76 years old from the Bear Clan and my Anishinaabe name means beautiful tree stump. I am an involved and respected elder in my community, but these days I do not feel as grounded as my name describes.
Three years ago, after the loss of my husband I struggled to care for myself. I had an aging body and a tired spirit. My cousin who lives off reserve told me I should reach out to Shelly who oversees the Community Support Services (CSS) transportation service to help me get to my appointments. Initially I had concerns about what I knew about “white people” but as you will soon find out, I was mistaken about non-Indigenous communities.
I spoke to Shelly’s kind voice about transportation and discovered not only could they ensure I make my medical appointments as scheduled, but there were other programs and services that were available to assist me. The transportation was as scheduled and the drivers were understanding of my medical needs. They treated me as though I belonged.
I tried another service called Meals on Wheels. Nutritious meals that meet my medical needs are brought to me on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Before Meals on Wheels, I was not eating as well as I should, and I often forgot to make lunch or dinner. Cooking for one is difficult, it seems so hard to make and clean-up a meal just for myself. I don’t like bothering my friends and family to care for me and I still want some independence and autonomy.
I also attended a couple of the community meals under the CSS Congregate Dinning program; I just call it eating with friends. I have never had the opportunity to meet new people, eat, and chat in such a low-key, relaxed and truly informal way. I get the wonderful opportunity to engage and participate in a community near my home that I had never known to exist.
With the CSS Friendly Visitor program, a young volunteer comes to my home and talks to me for a couple hours each week. I get to tell her all about my life and my indigenous roots. The volunteer takes the time to understand my heritage, my history and even honours my connections to natural healing and the creator. It’s wonderful to be able to connect and give back through the education of another generation, with mutual respect.
With my heath declining I have considered applying to the Assisted Living program for my future. Many of the current residents in Assisted Living have attended the community meals and seem to greatly appreciate being so close to the many programs and activities I have come to enjoy. I would be close enough to walk across the hall and attend the SMART exercise classes or the art programs. The closest Indigenous Assisted Living is two hours from my home community but through these CSS programs I already feel like a family member. I get to preserve all my beliefs, traditional knowledge, family and community while benefiting from being a participant in some fantastic and remarkable services.
Because they truly are life saving. For example, if the transportation service was not available, I don’t know how I would make it to my medical appointments. If the Meals on Wheels program didn’t exist, I know I wouldn’t be eating as healthy as I am now. If there was no congregate dining program, I would not have the same opportunity to get out and make some new friends and listen to guest speakers talk about healthy aging and other interesting topics. Without the Friendly Visitor program, I would be lacking some great one-on-one conversations with someone who is genuinely interested in learning more about me as I learn more about them.
My life would be so different, lonely and perhaps even shorter if these programs didn’t exist. It is disturbing and so sad to learn that these types of CSS programs are not well funded by the government and organizations are sometimes in danger of having to cut services because of limited funds. That frightens me because I honestly don’t know now where I would be without them.
Steffania’s story, though fictional, is written based on the combined stories of several individual clients who have used and accessed Community Support Services can provide. Many individuals in our communities have similar stories to Steffania. They are isolated, secluded and not connected with the community at large. These individuals find meaningful connections and physical health improvements by participating in the CSS programs.
Without these services and programs, individuals are left isolated, perhaps not eating or bathing, having no one to talk to. Medical questions and concerns go unanswered and often untreated. Others are at risk of elder abuse and they have little to no mental stimulation living out the remainder of their lives in unnecessary emptiness.