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Quebec Cree aiming to start conversation about elder mistreatment

Elder mistreatment is a global and growing problem and the Cree health board is hoping to increase awareness about what it looks like and where to go to get help.

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness day; education campaign underway

Elder mistreatment is a global and growing problem that is made more complex by the legacy of colonization and residential schools. The Cree health board in northern Quebec is hoping to increase awareness about what it is and where to go to get help. (Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay/T. Philiptchenko)

Elder mistreatment is not an easy thing to talk about, but for Janie and Charlie Pepabano, talking about it is the best way to make sure Cree elders thrive. 

The Chisasibi couple are spokespeople for this year's Elder Abuse Awareness Campaign in the Cree communities of northern Quebec. 

"We should be able to look after [elders] and respect them and not to show anything bad," said Janie in Cree. 

"They should not be worried," she said.

Elder mistreatment is a global and growing problem and the Cree health board is hoping to increase awareness about what it is and where to get help, according to Brenda Lee House, with Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. 

She is the planning, programming and research officer for elder abuse.

We want to start the conversation because mistreatment is not often talked about.- Brenda Lee House, PPRO Elder Abuse, CBHSSJB

"We want to start the conversation because mistreatment is not often talked about. People see it, but perhaps [there is] a stigma," said House. 

There are many different types of elder mistreatment, she said, from financial and psychological to physical, among others.

"Everyone plays a role in combating mistreatment … so as individuals, everyone has the right [to live free] from abuse. Everyone has the power to stop mistreatment," said House.

Impacted by trauma of residential school

Charlie Pepabano, along with his wife Janie, are spokespeople for this year's awareness campaign by the Cree health board. (Facebook)

For Elder Charlie Pepabano, modern technology and addiction issues are at the root of the mistreatment he's aware of in Cree communities. 

"It started when [these] things came into the communities," he said in Cree.

"One factor is alcohol and drugs where we don't care about anything and abuse it."

While there isn't a lot of data about elder mistreatment in Indigenous communities, House said the problem is made more complex by the trauma and legacy of residential schools. 

"Statistically, if someone was abused as a young person, then later in life they would [be] more at risk of being mistreated," said House, adding that a large part of her work is to start collecting data in Cree communities. 

Approach aims to support both elder and aggressor

She also said the goal of the Cree approach is to help both the elder and the person who is mistreating them.  

"If, for example, there's a case or a situation where an elder is being mistreated by their adult son and the son has addiction issues," she said, then the idea is to address both issues.

The Cree health board is also working on creating an intervention process, training front-line workers and developing awareness campaigns and tools.

Educational pamphlets have been sent to local band councils and local chiefs have been encouraged to find ways to start a dialogue at the local level. 

People are also encouraged to wear purple on June 15 —  World Elder Abuse Awareness Day — and share photos with the elders in their lives on social media.

House has also set up a regional committee to combat the mistreatment of vulnerable adults. 

The committee has members from the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, Nishiyuu Council and Cree justice department, local frontline workers, as well as the Quebec public curator and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

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