Elder abuse victims often don’t want to talk: chief
DAVE BAXTER POSTMEDIA NEWS
A northern Manitoba chief says incidents of elder abuse have become rampant in her community and continue to plague First Nations communities, but while elders fall victim to physical, mental and financial abuse, she said they often do so in silence because it’s something people don’t want to talk about.
“It’s a very serious issue, but it’s one that people don’t want to discuss, so while people stay quiet, elders continue to be abused and mistreated often in their own homes,” Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Angela Levasseur said. “The conversation about elder abuse needs to be brought out into the open.”
Last month, Levasseur introduced a resolution at an Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs general assembly asking for the development and enforcement of elder protection codes in Manitoba First Nations.
She said the reason the problem has become so prevalent is because in First Nations elders often live in the same homes as their children and grandchildren, and frequently it is those relatives that are abusing them in those homes, and behind closed doors.
And while she said she hears less reports of actual physical abuse, she consistently hears about cases of mental, emotional and financial abuse, and of cases where elders are being forced to hand over their money.
“One of the most common forms of abuse in First Nations homes is definitely financial abuse,” Levasseur said. “We get reports of people demanding their parents and grandparents hand over their money when they get their pension cheques at the end of the month.
“And sometimes they spend all that money on things like drugs and alcohol, and go back and demand more money, and threaten them if they don’t give them more money.”
But Levasseur said there are likely more incidents of physical abuse going on than people know about in First Nations because she said many elders would probably not report it for several reasons.
“If an elder were being assaulted by someone in their life, my feeling is they would be hesitant to report because that could lead to criminal charges, as it should, but elders are humble people and the last thing they want to do is see members of their own families arrested and criminally charged,” she said. “Also many don’t ever want to bring any police to their homes, because many are residential school or ’60s Scoop survivors, so they have been traumatized by these colonial forces, and in some cases will never feel comfortable contacting the RCMP, so they end up having nowhere to turn.”
She said in one recent case in her community, an elder was being consistently emotionally and financially abused by her own grandchildren, and says the problem was so bad that the woman at one point requested a protection order, and asked for help from the community’s chief and council.
“She felt guilty, she felt remorseful, she felt she had done something wrong and I had to tell her ‘This is not your fault,’ and I even went down to the home to speak directly to the grandchildren and told them ‘This is not OK.’”
But Levasseur said as elder abuse continues, there seems to be little agreement on who should monitor and enforce it, or on how it should even be enforced, which allows the problem to get worse and for elders to suffer.