EDITORIAL: Orphans, Elders, and Victims

by Dec 17, 2018OPINIONS





The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is one of the most family-minded communities in the world. No municipality I know comes together like this one when trouble arises. Whether it is sickness, poverty, or some other malady, you can bet that the community will rally behind the sufferer with support and emotional comfort. We show compassion, empathy, and sympathy (notwithstanding how we sometimes behave when we get in front of cameras in the Council chambers).

This time of year, Christmas, people across our Tribe and the country tend to soften and be more generous, with our money, if not our time. Charitable giving increases during December and one hopes that this is because of kind and compassion hearts and not merely because this month is the last chance to offset some of the impact of tax season, which follows shortly after the holidays.

I once heard our PHHS leaders tell Council about the difficulties they have in securing adoption of older kids. They said young children, particularly infants, are easily placed in homes with loving families. But those who are near or have entered their teenage years are difficult to place. The challenges of raising or getting a teenager integrated into a family are much harder than those of a young child. Prospective parents know that guiding a person who is closer to adulthood than childhood will be emotionally and physically draining. Parenting is as much about relationship building as it is discipline. By the time they reach their teen years, many orphans have likely already decided that they will never be a part of a family and have put up an emotional wall; hardened themselves to the reality that they must get through their lives without one. And yet, they need the love a family brings as much as any child without a place to call home. Real love involves sacrifice, and the only question is what price we are willing to pay for it.

I was in a meeting over the weekend, and we discussed the plight of our elderly. A practice more common than we would like to think is possible it that of, what one of my colleagues called, “granny dumping.” If we all live long enough, we will eventually need someone to take care of us in the waning years of this life. Unfortunately, some families or family members don’t see it a need or responsibility for caring for their family’s elderly once they reach the state of being unable to care for themselves. So, they find a nursing or rest home and put their elders there. Don’t get me wrong; it is a loving act of kindness when a family is physically unable to provide for a family elder to find a good nursing facility for them to live out their remaining days. It is a gut-wrenching experience to come to that stage in life, both for the elder and for the family. We all someday will get to the point that it is dangerous for us to be alone, due to the risk of falls, medical requirements, and mental instability. Even after this happens to us, we will still need our families. And many times, what is happening in rest homes and nursing facilities is that once the elder arrives, visits from family steadily decline over time and end up with lonely elders sitting in the hallways of a nursing facility for most of their remaining years. They hunger for affection and company. They beg for a little conversation and attention. They try, as best they can, to substitute the kindness of a stranger for the relationship of a family that has moved on without them.

Many women and some men live in constant fear. They fear the partner that at one time said that they were the most important person in the world to them. Check out some of the statistics on domestic violence (courtesy of www.thehotline.org). “Over 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States-more than 12 million women and men throughout a year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men aged 18 or older have been the victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Nearly half of all women and men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner. A child witnessed violence in 22 percent of violent partner cases and 30 to 60 percent of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.”

To escape the abuse and possibly to preserve their lives and the lives of their children, many domestic violence victims seek the help of organizations who will house them in undisclosed housing, hiding them away until a resolution may be found for their situation. They must abandon their homes, family, and friends, unable to divulge their location for fear of their perpetrator. Many times, escape means leaving with just the clothes on their backs-often alone and with no means of support other than the organization who takes them in.

Yes, this time of year, we soften. But loneliness, pain, and suffering don’t take a break the rest of the year and only become noticeable at Christmas time. We drop a coin or a bill in a red kettle or drop a load of clothes once a year at the local thrift store, and we get a warm, fuzzy feeling in our hearts. We did our good deed for the year, and that should keep our spirits lifted until the end of 2019. Right?

The end of a year is also a time for reflection and resolutions. Let us all resolve to do better in 2019- to love more, to reach out more, to be more available with time, not just money. Visit the lonely. Nurse the sick. Love the unloved and the ones we perceive to be unlovable. And, unlike our annual commitment to get on the treadmill or cut out the sweets, let’s keep these resolutions.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the fantastic staff of the Cherokee One Feather – Scott McKie Brings Plenty, Joe Martin, Philenia Walkingstick, and Sally Davis. They have worked hard to keep you informed this year, and I would say have done a great job — our gratitude to those who read and support the One Feather, including the leadership of the Commerce Department, the Executive Office, and Tribal Council. We wish you a safe, happy, and prosperous Christmas and New Year!