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Focus on Rural Health

Giving Native Elders a Voice

By Marv Leier on

Sloan Henry
Sloan Henry, Project Coordinator for NIEJI

Sloan Henry has a passion for protecting and respecting Native elders. She is the Project Coordinator for the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI) at the Center for Rural Health (CRH) at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

"Elder abuse is very important and needs to be addressed in every community," said Henry. "It's not a specific ethnic or race issue. It's a societal problem."

Henry's passion and respect for the elderly was showcased at this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) event at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. WEAAD is an annual event held on June 15 of each year. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations launched the program in 2006.

Elder abuse is very important and needs to be addressed in every community.

Henry says NIEJI began participating in WEAAD activities in 2012. But last year NIEJI started hosting forums on North Dakota reservations. By co-hosting forums with North Dakota tribal communities, NIEJI thought it would be a good way to honor and get input from Native elders. Henry and others from NIEJI collaborated with Carol Nichols from the Standing Rock Elderly Protection Services Program this year to host a WEAAD Conference on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation at the Prairie Knights Casino in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

The Standing Rock WEAAD was a huge success. It was the largest event we hosted so far.
WEAAD 2017 event
WEAAD event at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

"The Standing Rock WEAAD was a huge success," said Henry. "We had around 90 elders from that area who were able to attend the event. It was the largest event we have hosted so far."

The event featured a variety of speakers who discussed topics to help educate and bring awareness about elder abuse to the community. They focused on programs and services available to tribal elders who may be experiencing abuse, neglect, and exploitation. She said the forum allowed the elders to talk about and voice concerns to their peers and tribal community members.

"Elder abuse should not be talked about behind doors but out in the open," said Henry. "Conversations can bring solutions, not just for the elder or the family, but also for an entire community. The more people talk, the more others become aware about elder abuse."

Henry said she was honored to be involved in the forums. She said many Native elders feel there is not enough funding or services for elders in general. It was a concern mentioned by many and something she can incorporate into other NIEJI projects and tribal areas. Elders need more support, not just in the area of elder abuse, but also in all aspects of their lives.

I feel that our youth (myself included) are not doing enough.

"I feel that our youth (myself included) are not doing enough," said Henry. "We can do so much more for them."

WEAAD 2017 event
Discussion at the WEAAD event.

Henry wants to do a WEAAD event each year in different Northern Plains tribal communities. She hopes the tribes see the value of the elders' input and host their own WEAAD events. Her goal for this event was to create a comfortable atmosphere for the elders to voice their concerns. She said many spoke openly and asked good questions. And for future planning, she will allow more time for the elders to speak. Awareness is important and elders should not be afraid to report abuse. They need to know that help is available to them.

"They need to be safe and taken care of because they have earned that respect," said Henry.

Marv Leier Marv Leier is the Communications Manager at the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Grand Forks.

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