By Chevi Rabbit
For Black Press Media
The Maskwacis Elders Mentoring Program, which is an opportunity for parents-to-be to receive support from Elders, is led by Dr. Richard Oster from the University of Alberta. In a collaborative and respective way, the program team developed and implemented an Elders Mentoring Program to provide support for parents-to-be.
“I’ve been working in partnership with Maskwacis Elders and community members from Maskwacis for over five years,” said Dr. Oster.
“We work together to implement and evaluate community-led and community-derived strategies to improve the health and well-being of parents-to-be and their babies.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Elders would provide support face-to-face at the Wetaskiwin Primary Care Network (PCN).
“We’ve had to adapt our program so that parents can get support virtually,” he said.
“Before the pandemic, Elders and parents in the program laughed, told stories, gave out healthy snacks, did cultural displays, and worked to empower pregnant and postpartum moms and dads.”
During the pandemic, face-to-face mentoring has not been possible.
“Therefore, we are offering virtual sessions with Elders that are one-on-one. Moms and dads can get support from Elders over Zoom or the telephone,” said Oster.
Both female and male Elders are available.
“They provide cultural, spiritual, social and emotional support that parents wouldn’t get from their western care team and they meet parents where they are at and their support and guidance is multi-layered and specific to what parents are dealing with on a day-to-day basis,” said Oster.
Oster added the program is an opportunity to rebuild inter-generational connections and pass on traditional teachings. Cultural reclamation, rebuilding severed ties and reconciliation are incorporated into what the Elders provide.
Clainia Potts is a member of Montana First Nation and a research assistant for Dr. Richard Oster.
“What I have seen is that they are just reaching out to expectant and new parents by phone or online,” said Potts.
“The elders were available at the Primary Care Network pre-COVID and they are finding new ways to reach the moms and dads.”
Potts hopes the program will give support to those young moms who don’t have a support system in place. “Having a baby on your own and having someone to ask questions is such an important part in a young mom’s life and sadly there are so many of our young parents who don’t have that support,” she said.
“I would like to see the program grow so all the members have support in more areas (such as) the prenatal programs in the nations,” said Potts.
Muriel Lee is Cree/Saulteau/Dane_Zaa from the Ermineskin Cree Nation. She has been an Elder with the program since 2017.
“My role is to support young mothers and provide culturally appropriate support. Most of our young peoples are distant from Cree Culture,” said Elder Lee.
Idigenous people have lost a lot of their culture over the last 150 years from residential school experiences and ongoing aggressive assimilation tactics, she says.
“Today, the average person knows they are First Nation. However, they don’t have the value and belief system. There is a deep loss of connection to their Indigenous ancestral teachings,” said Elder Lee.
“This has brought the current social condition that we as Indigenous people experience that include, high poverty rates, poorer health, identity issues, violence, high suicide rates, drug abuse, MMIW, MMIM, exploitation, loss of land and language.
“I teach them traditional parenting and I also speak to them in their language, short paraphrases and Cree concepts. I connect them to who they are as Indigenous people. As Elders in the program, we want them to have strong children. We want the child they carry to become a strong child,” said Elder Lee.
“Every generation should become more culturally aware, so that the Nation becomes stronger with every new generation.”