Why this First Nations nursing home is keeping elders entertained with nerf guns

Staff at a nursing home in Wikwemikong, Ont., are finding creative ways to lift the spirits of elders during the coronavirus pandemic, including simulating memories of hunting, with nerf guns.

'Our activity staff have really come through during this pandemic,' says Cheryl Osawabine-Peltier

The Wikwemikong Nursing Home has been lifting the spirits of its elders during the coronavirus pandemic with many activities, including deer hunting. (Wikwemikong Nursing Home/Facebook)

Staff at a nursing home in Wikwemikong, Ont., are finding creative ways to lift the spirits of elders during the coronavirus pandemic, including simulating fond memories of hunting, with nerf guns.

Emily Barnes, recreation manager at the Wikwemikong Nursing Home on Manitoulin Island, about 300 kilometres northwest of Toronto, said it's important to focus on a person-centred approach to activities at the nursing home.

"We have to cater to the individual interests of our residents," said Barnes.

"The community that they come from, hunting and providing for their families was such an important part of life. We just try to incorporate everything that was meaningful before they came here."

The Wikwemikong Nursing Home's values revolve around Anishinaabe people's Seven Grandfather Teachings. (Wikwemikong Nursing Home/Facebook)

Each week, Barnes and her team strives to have a full calendar of activities for residents, who are primarily First Nations from Manitoulin Island. This past week included a deer hunting activity after one of the residents said he was experiencing hunting fever. That meant setting up a mini-forest of Christmas trees, staff dressing up in deer costumes, and residents wielding nerf guns.

"He was saying how much he missed being an avid hunter every year, and this year was kind of hard because he felt like he was truly missing out on something important," said Barnes.

"It was so much fun. I'm sure a few might have enjoyed shooting me a little more than they should have. But, it was a really great time."

In the last few weeks, they've also modified a popular penny fair to accommodate COVID-19 measures, held a photo shoot for all the female residents, a lip sync battle, and organized a game of Wheel of Fortune against the residents of the Oneida Long Term Care Facility.

Staff at the Wikwemikong Nursing Home brought a Tim Hortons "drive thru" to other nursing homes on Manitoulin Island. (Wikwemikong Nursing Home/Facebook)

When the first fast food chain — a Tim Hortons — opened on Manitoulin Island in October, the elders were able to join in the festivities with a "drive thru" cart serving coffee and doughnuts.

"I didn't want them to miss out on this important milestone that happened on our island," said Barnes.

"It's a difficult time. Like everywhere, our visits are restricted so they can't see their loved ones as much. A lot of them are not very technological-savvy so that's been a big adjustment."

On Nov. 16, the district Wikwemikong falls under moved to the "Yellow-Protect" category of Ontario's COVID-19 response framework. A maximum of 10 residents at the nursing home are allowed to gather at once and administrator Cheryl Osawabine-Peltier said there's increased measures and restrictions.

Recreation manager Emily Barnes and recreation assistants Stacey Animikwan and Amber Dowdall are responsible for all of the activities that are provided at the Wikwemikong Nursing Home. (Wikwemikong Nursing Home/Facebook)

It's why activities have been so important.

"We're trying to make it as normal as possible for them," said Osawabine-Peltier.

"We're all trying to protect our residents and we see the devastation that's out there. But at the same time, we're trying to make a full life for our residents to enjoy.

The activities, Osawabine-Peltier said, have been a huge motivation for both staff and residents.

"It just lifts up the residents," she said. "Our activity staff have really come through during this pandemic."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.