Wilson Wewa Jr. at the "Taking a Stand Against Elder Abuse" conference.
By LORI ANN EDMO
FORT HALL — Wilson Wewa Jr. advised those in attendance at the “Taking a Stand Against Elder Abuse” conference May 17, Indian people are forgetting what family means and as a result elder abuse is occurring.
He gets passionate about elder abuse because his late grandma lived to be 107 years old and all of his family took care of her — for example cutting wood so she kept warm – they never asked to be paid or asked for gas money. They did it because she was family. But that has changed.
Wilson has worked for 30 years for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Spring Senior program and at least twice a week he handles elder abuse cases. He’s seen more cases in the past three years — it’s escalating. Part of the problem is elders aren’t doing anything about it because they don’t want to hurt the abusers feelings.
He asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they have multiple families in the home and asked if the family members help pay the light bill, buy groceries or do repairs in the home? If not that is elder abuse plain and simple, “Guess what you’re allowing it to happen.” He said those adults living off of tribal elders need to learn to be productive. The tribal elders need to advise them to grow up and say, “I’m not going to let you stay here.” Many he’s witnessed are 40, 50 and 60 year olds acting like kids.
He believes the abuse could be hereditary especially if one is raised in an alcoholic home, is a victim of physical abuse or if kids witness it. Young boys may learn it’s okay because mom doesn’t call the police, “Our kids learn how to lie because mom had a broken arm and lied – said she fell down the stairs.”
“The more we lose culture and language – the worse it gets,” and until elders start claiming enough is enough – it will continue. The adult children need to get jobs and stop asking for handouts, he continued. “We are the teachers, no matter how old.” And he also believes disciplining children is a parent’s right – whipping or whacking is how he referred to it, should be allowed. He’s raising two grandsons and said he has to tell them to knock it off when they’re doing wrong or they could get whacked. He recalled when he was young his grandma just had to give him “that look,” she didn’t have to whip them – didn’t say nothing, a lot you probably gave that look. “We loved grandma and had respect and knew what that look meant.”
Another problem is adults belittling one another – gossiping and children witnessing bad behavior that results in kids acting out. “Our kids learn that – use words against us.” He said he never thought he would see sexual abuse on elders but he’s seeing it today. Physical abuse is also a problem – seeing elders with black eyes claiming they hit the door. “It’s hard for me to deal,” he said. “I’m glad I have a strong spiritual foundation or I wouldn’t be able to do my job.” “If I didn’t pray, sweat, sing songs – my foundation keeps me from going mad because it happens in homes, nursing homes and hospitals.”
It involves emotional and psychological abuse – the victim know and a high percentage is family. Wherever there is elder abuse there is fear. He gave the example Johnny may knock on the door demand the keys to the elder’s car or a place to stay. Or the abuser may use grandchildren against the elder – threaten to not allow the grandparent to see the grandchildren. Even ceremonies are no longer sacred as the abuser will threaten to not take the elder to them.
Concerning meth, his tribe is dealing with the serious problem as currently 30 HUD homes are boarded up and it costs anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 top clean them. Their spiritual center referred to as the Longhouse where ceremonies are conducted and funerals are held has been closed for four months because of meth contamination. The cost is upwards of $300,000 to repair. Meth was also found in the community center. He said the cost for clean up is high. In addition, his tribe has 28 senior citizen homes and three are boarded up because of meth contamination. People in there 70s are smoking meth.
Almost weekly Wilson said he has to deal with a couple of individuals at the senior center, “I don’t know if they are high on meth but they are loud.” He’s banned some individuals because of their disruptive behavior – pretty soon elders don’t want to come to the program. Contingency plans have to be developed.
He added Warm Springs is not the only tribe dealing with meth. “Meth ruins families,” adding tribal people need to stop rescuing family members because of the abuse.
“We need to step up and become true grandparents – instill trust and respect back into our families,” he continued. That means trusting the people in positions of power such as advocates, judges, child protection workers, tribal council people. “Grandma said always have to respect people no matter what they do, shake their hand, you’re the better person and there is not reason to bring yourself down to their level.” “If we can’t respect ourselves, how do we get respect from someone else?” he asked.
Wilson said Newe (tribal people) have lived on the land for over 100,000 years, “We can continue to live on this land side by side – our land, water, air, animals – everything has life even rocks, maybe when we start opening the door to self respect and stop blaming the white people for taking it away, it will come back.”
He encouraged attendees to not let somebody own you, “Forgive.” He’s been coming to the conference for three years and this time he spoke on reality. “We have to start reclaiming love in our families and start to heal. Love means saying no – tough love means to say I had enough – get out of my house, I’m not going to let you stay here when you’re drunk or under the influence of meth.”