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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Taking care of our Elders

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Apr 17, 2020

I think I’ve been handling the pandemic well. I have a general anxiety disorder, so being asked to work from home and avoid public spaces is like a dream come true. The only thing that triggers my anxiety to the point of tears is seeing reports of neglected, sick and dying old people in long-term care homes in the south. 

When my nuhkum was hospitalized, the nurses and orderlies were very good to her. Some would even lay down with her at night to comfort her when she could not sleep. They learned words in Cree to be able to communicate with her and told her she was loved. They were kind, even though they often worked 16-hour shifts. When she was not in hospital, my aunt Louisa and my uncle Halton would selflessly take care of her. They had my grandmother at their place for almost four years.

Nothing affects me like seeing Elders being abused or neglected. I loved watching my community prepare their COVID-19 response because everyone’s first reflex was to think of the Elders. 

Joint efforts were made so that some programs for the elderly could continue. A food bank was set up for them, buildings were rearranged if an Elder had to quarantine, and Elders were a key aspect of the communications at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. 

All that is very different from what is happening down south.

Because many long-term care home employees are either sick or quarantined, Quebec Premier François Legault was forced to appeal to doctors and other healthcare specialists April 15 to help fight COVID-19 in seniors’ housing centres, where the pandemic is raging and claiming hundreds of lives.

Some healthcare professionals reacted to Legault’s request with anger. One viral Facebook post by a woman trained as a social worker complained that she was being asked to “wipe soiled elderly butts.”

Taking care of the elderly is not easy. It takes you out of your comfort zone. You must learn quickly and, in my case, without professional training. Even if it is hard, the aged deserve dignity. Everyone does. It hurts to see that people don’t want to go help in old-age homes because they think they are gross or that they are above that kind of work. Elders are everyone’s responsibility and bringing them care and comfort during this trying time is important. That’s what we would want for ourselves.

I think people are starting to realize that when the sh*t hits the fan, you need community. We need to be selfless, to help our neighbours and that we need a healthy social safety net. When this is all over, I hope we do not go back to how things were. I hope we raise our voices and demand better living conditions for the ones in need. Capitalism has made us selfish, but we now see its flaws. Let’s use this experience to do better in the future.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.