June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. A majority of our Lakota elders suffer abuse every single day. Their adult children take advantage of them. Some of them have adult grandchildren who also take advantage of them.
Our Lakota elders are our most valuable resource. Many tribes have approved resolutions allowing elders to receive certain benefits. On Rosebud, a person is considered an elder when they reach 55 years of age.
Today, there are many Lakota grandparents who are financially supporting their adult children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s sad to see our Lakota elders struggle to provide for their adult children and grandchildren as many of our grandparents live on a fixed income.
The majority of retired elders worked their entire lives. Upon retirement they are entitled to either a pension from their job, social security benefits or both. However, the high cost of rent, electricity, propane, wood and groceries leaves many of our grandparents short of funds. Add to that the price gouging which happens on many reservations and our grandparents run out of money before the end of the month. Yet, they still find ways to provide for their grandchildren by paying for birthday parties, holiday meals, graduation necessities, clothing, shoes and other needs.
There are many ways our Lakota elders are being abused. Their adult children will live off them and not lift a finger to help clean the house or pay bills. Some elders have their money or debit cards taken away from them by their adult children or grandchildren.
Lakota elders also suffer from the substance abuse of their children and grandchildren. That is, the elders suffer when their adult children and grandchildren party in their homes. Alcohol and methamphetamine parties happen every single day on our reservations and it’s our elders who really suffer. When there is a houseful of belligerent drunks, anything can happen. Sometimes elders are beaten or even killed when they refuse to hand over their money to other adult relatives living with them.
Several elders have been evicted from their homes on the Rosebud reservation due to their homes being contaminated because of the high methamphetamine use of other adults living with them. Consequently, it’s not only abusive to do meth in an elder’s home which results in eviction by the HUD funded Indian Housing Authority on our reservations, it’s also abusive to pursue the eviction of any elder. But our people who oversee these Indian Housing Authority offices on our reservations will tell you they have to follow policy, even when it means forcing elders into homelessness.
Our tribal authorities aren’t much help when it comes to the abuse of Lakota elders. They also will tell you they have to follow policy, even when it means putting respected Lakota elders at risk. For example, some elders cannot qualify for energy assistance because they are over-income. Lakota elders are living without the basic necessity of tribally funded electricity or propane because they supposedly make too much money, even though they are living on a fixed income.
Our tribe and people living on our reservations have forgotten what it means to respect Lakota elders. Our grandparents carry cultural knowledge passed on by ancestors. A majority of our elders on Rosebud are fluent Lakota speakers. When our young people have questions about our Lakota language or ceremony, they will likely look for an elder to help them figure out the answers they are seeking.
We still have several Lakota elders who are role models for all of us; they are not ashamed to speak the Lakota language and many still participate in our ceremonies. We must do more to take care of elders.