Earlier this month, I had the great honor of attending the National Indian Council on Aging, Inc. (NICOA) biennial conference in Niagara Falls, NY, in celebration of NICOA’s 40th anniversary. The event brought together over 1300 people representing numerous tribes from the United States and Canada, showcasing the resilience of and challenges facing American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities as they age. Three full days of panel discussions, workshops, a traditional meal, and dancing allowed us to learn from one another and take pride in Native heritage and tribal identity.
Though the NICOA conference has been held every two years since NICOA’s founding in 1976, this was my first time attending the conference. I was floored by the number of people in attendance and how far some of them had traveled to be there – a few conference attendees were on my flight from Seattle, and I recognized them when I arrived at the conference center in Niagara Falls. Others came from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia and California. The spirit of community – and community pride – was incredibly strong throughout the week’s events. It was a powerful reminder that our communities are strong, resilient, and full of love.
Each morning of the conference began with a prayer and a panel discussion in the enormous exhibition hall. The panels – one of which featured another coalition member: Michael Adams, CEO and President of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) – touched on various aspects of aging, including elder abuse, caregiving, and policies that impact the lives of LGBT AI/AN elders. The NICOA board members encouraged civic engagement among their communities, imploring the elders in attendance to contact their members of Congress and demand better funding and improved services for AI/AN elders both on and off Indian lands. Randella Bluehouse, Executive Director of NICOA, praised the recent success of the Diverse Elders Coalition’s #TellACL campaign, noting that hundreds of NICOA supporters had submitted their comments to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) about the need for the ACL to address the unique concerns of aging in AI/AN communities.
Smaller workshops were held during the mornings and afternoons of the NICOA conference, including opportunities for elders to dance and engage in other physical activity, workshops on financial preparedness and modifying your home for aging in place, the impacts of methamphetamine on American Indian/Alaska Native elders and their families, traditional foods in nursing homes, SCSEP, and more. The #NICOAAging hashtag on Twitter features some of our learning from the events we attended, as well as beautiful photos and thoughts from other conference participants. And as always, follow us on Twitter for the latest news and updates about NICOA and the American Indian/Alaska Native elder communities they serve.
I loved being a part of this inspiring and informative conference. Thanks so much to NICOA for having me, and for all of the work that NICOA staff and supporters put into making this such a successful and fulfilling experience for attendees!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.