While the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found in Kamloops, British Columbia surprised the nation, it was confirmation to residential school survivors and their families of what they had known all along.
Many of those children would have been older adults by now and there are many survivors who are now Indigenous elders in their communities. As the Indigenous community continues to age, this also means that there are Indigenous elders in long-term care homes that require appropriate care that is culturally competent. Indigenous elders have a past of colonization, trauma, distrust of western institutions, and social isolation and loneliness that need to be recognized and supported in long-term care homes.
Ontario has different types of long-term care homes, there are ones that focus on Indigenous culture that primarily have Indigenous residents and there are institutional homes that have residents from many backgrounds. Indigenous elders who are in institutional homes with diverse residents are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, and poorer health due to the lack of support for their culture and past experiences.
Feelings of social isolation can arise due to being around staff and other residents who do not speak the same language or know the culture of the Indigenous residents. Consequences to health can be contributed by barriers to communication, needs or lack of traditional medicine and practices. Isolation from their own communities and reserves can contribute to feelings of alienation due to the lack of access to spiritual leaders, family members, traditional foods and celebrations.
Social assimilation through residential schools attempted to rid Indigenous culture, and survivors are experiencing trauma and consequences on their mental health. Culture is one’s identity, when it is not upheld, a piece of someone is missing, which can impact mental, physical, and social well-being. It is important for non-Indigenous institutional long-term care homes to support Indigenous elders through ways that value their culture, unique experiences and needs.
The long-term care system can support Indigenous elders through ways that can encourage better care, value their culture and emotional, cognitive, and physical support. A few ways this can be achieved is through:
- Culturally competent training for staff
- Incorporating Indigenous recreational programs and practices
- Incorporating the Indigenous community and family members to ease the transition into the long-term care home
- Access to traditional medicines, foods, and ceremonies
The long-term care system has progressed, but a greater focus on cultural competency is required to accept and respect diverse residents and their unique experiences.