October 21, 2015 was a remarkable day for the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA). Despite the cold and rainy weather, NICOA hosted a very important meeting to discuss New Mexico Aging in Indian country. Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging and Cynthia LaCounte, Director of the Office of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Programs, representing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Administration on Community Living, listened to several testimonials presented by Tribal leaders as well as Tribal and State aging services program administrators.
J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo spoke of his concerns that ongoing prohibitive Federal budget cuts have direct effect on his community. He proudly mentioned that some of his Elders are living well into their 100s. He supports the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. Johnathan Nez, Vice President of the Navajo Nation emphasized the need to think about aging services that support intergenerational centers where the Elders and the youth come together to learn from each other.
(Photo above, left to right: Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging; Cynthia LaCounte, Director of the Office of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Programs; Randella Bluehouse, Executive Director of NICOA)
Both tribal leaders discussed several aging related matters that Administrator Greenlee responded to with deep thought and expressed her desire to do what she can to support aging needs across the country. She stated that funding issues are critical and will continue to be, especially as the need for more services within the aging population continues to grow.
State administrators were in the room, including Myles Copeland, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Department of Long-Term Services; Sondra Everhart, State Ombudsman; along with Lora Church, Director of the New Mexico Indian Area Agency on Aging. Ms. Church presented testimony about the State Plan on Aging and highlighted the achievements in working with Pueblos and Tribes statewide.
(Photo: Johnathan Nez, Vice President of the Navajo Nation presents testimony)
Tribal representatives presented common themes that funding for aging services is deficient in providing substantive services to Elders. The aging population is growing and the nation as a whole is ill prepared. The speakers eloquently advocated for the most underserved Elders in their communities. The sentiment from many is that Tribal communities do without many necessary resources but continue to provide care to Elders, regardless. Funding and services are most critical for those most in need.
Powerful testimonials were offered by Sara Candelaria, Director of the Pueblo of San Felipe Senior Center; Monica Toya, Jemez Pueblo; Harley Coriz, Director Santo Domingo Elder Center; Lillian Romero, Program Manager of Taos Pueblo Senior Center; Alta Bluehouse, Administrator of Annie Wauneka Life Care, Inc.; Daniel Sanchez, Director of Pueblo of Acoma Senior Center; Ramona Nez, Acting Executive Director, Navajo Department of Health.
Randella Bluehouse, NICOA Executive Director remarked, “I was especially delighted when Administrator Greenlee recommended that NICOA work with congressional leadership like New Mexico Representative, Michelle Lujan Grisham to formulate a National Summit on Aging before congress. A meeting with Congressional leaders would help to call attention to outdated funding formulas in the Older Americans Act, Title VI and other aging services to tribes that need to be reviewed and changed to meet the population growth and aging concerns of our Elders across Indian Country.”
(Photo above: Ramona Nez, Acting Executive Director, Navajo Department of Health speaks while Myles Copeland, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Department of Long-Term Services, Sondra Everhart, State Ombudsman and Daniel Sanchez, Director of Pueblo of Acoma Senior Center listen.)