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Chief Reynard Faber

Meeting the Needs of Tribal Elders: An Interview with Chief Reynard Faber

On March 22, NCOA was honored to host Honorary and Traditional Chief of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe Reynard Faber for a roundtable discussion of elder issues in tribal communities.

Q: What are some of your personal experiences with elders in your nation?

A: I was senior liaison for my nation for two years, and I developed a plan to address our aging population. Today, a third of our people are over age 65. Many of our elders are living alone, but some are living with their families, including grandchildren.

I also cared for my mother and stepfather for the last four years of their lives. Both had diabetes. I was there to cook, wash clothes, sweep floors, and get up at 4 a.m. to get them ready for dialysis three days a week. I know what it’s like to be a caregiver.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing tribal elders today?

A: Communication is a big issue. Too many of today’s youth do not listen to their elders and respect their wishes. Sometimes this means our elders have decisions made for them, instead of making their own choices.

Q: What do tribal elders need to help them age with good health?

A: Our elders need education, support, and encouragement. We had an elderly man with pneumonia who refused to go to the doctor. We had to bring in the grandkids to petition him to go. Many elders also need a second person with them when they’re talking with a professional about their health. Having a person they trust makes them feel comfortable about accepting what the health care providers are saying.

Our senior center and health and fitness center do a great job of promoting education on topics like nutrition, exercise, and living with chronic conditions like diabetes. Unfortunately, by the time they get diabetes, many people give up.

But some of our elders are very active, including in the Senior Olympics. That is one initiative that our nation incorporated for the well-being of our elders. Participating gives them a sense of accomplishment and allows them to travel and be around friends.

Q: What do tribal elders need to help them age with economic security?

A: In our nation, many elders are financially stable. They receive retirement income and still get a tribal stipend. Unfortunately, though, there are times when grandchildren come back to their grandparents and ask for money, and there have been some instances of abuse.

Q: How can non-tribal organizations that serve older adults support tribal elders in their communities?

A: Services like our waiver program are a big help. It allows our elders to pay either their family members or someone else a small stipend to help them with housekeeping, medication management, and cooking. More education and outreach on how to stay healthy and safe are important, too.

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Jean Van Ryzin

About Jean Van Ryzin

Jean Van Ryzin is Senior Director of Communications for NCOA. She oversees NCOA's brand and external communications, including website, social media, digital and email marketing, and media relations.