Incidents of elder abuse rising in Big Horn County
Thu, 05/18/2017 - 12:39pm admin
By Dr. Alden Big Man Jr. / Cabinet Head, Crow Homeland Security
Most Sundays, smoke from a sweat lodge can be seen throughout the Crow Reservation as families come together to celebrate life. The Sweat Ceremony is considered to be the oldest and most protected religious ceremony of the Crow people. When the rocks are ready, young men fill the pit for the ceremony while respected elders go in first, followed by younger participants, a tradition that has been passed down through generations. Afterwards, the old men sit about and smoke tobacco, telling stories from their youth, as young men listen with respect and admiration to the recollections of days gone by.
However, respect for elders in any ethnic group is being lost at an alarming rate. According to the Missoulian, from 2011-12, there were 6,017 instances of elder abuse reported in Montana. It is believed only 1 in 5 cases are reported, which suggests a staggering 30,000 cases of elder abuse cases go unreported each year in Montana.
Statistics on the Crow Reservation also show a startling increase in elder abuse over the last six years. In 2010, a total of 14 cases were processed through the Crow tribal courts. The number increased by 300 percent in 2015, when 49 cases were reported. The number dipped a little in 2016 with 32, but the month of January was an especially hard for elders, with the most reported cases.
However, the most troubling numbers are the unreported cases. Estimates suggest as many as 250 cases per year never make it to tribal courts. Over the past six years, it is likely that 1,750 elders were abused on the reservation, but incidents went unreported, due to a myriad of problems – especially a lack of knowledge for the definition of elder abuse.
According to the Crow Law and Order Code, the definition of elder abuse is the mistreatment of anyone over 60 years of age, or those over 45, who cannot protect themselves from abuse due to mental or physical impairment. In this case, mistreatment includes neglect; or physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse, according to the Code.
The problem facing most Crow elders is understanding a clear line of abuse when it comes to interaction with family members. The culture of the Crow Tribe is based on a clan system, intertwined with an intricate family systems, which extends the family dynamic. The raising of the first grandchild by grandparents is normal, as are families living with elders because of the lack of housing on the reservation.
According to Dr. Lori L. Jervis of the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Anthropology, little research or reporting on elder abuse in Indian Country has been done. The sensitivity of the topic, along with cultural nuances around what constitutes mistreatment, can amplify or downplay the definition of elder abuse. She found female elders were victims more often than men, and neglect and financial exploitation were the leading causes of elder abuse cases in Indian Country.
Educating the public is the main priority in the case of elder abuse, explained Jervis. Underreporting due to fear of retribution by family members, or the shame and humiliation they may feel, also plays a part in the exploitation. Oftentimes, elders or others who want to report the abuse feel the police or the judicial system cannot help them, explained Jervis. Estimates suggest, 80 percent of elder abuse cases are committed by family members, especially adult children and spouses. Furthermore, the justice system – which is already overwhelmed – can be untrained to see signs of elder abuse.
Another alarming factor in the increase of elder abuse is that it correlates directly with the increase of drug abuse, especially methamphetamine, on the Crow Reservation. In 2010, the Crow tribal courts reported 32 cases for possession of dangerous drugs. In 2015, that number nearly tripled, with 98 individuals being convicted for the crime. The total number of cases reported between 2010 and 2017 was 358, while the Big Horn County Justice Court in Hardin reported only 73 cases during the same time period. The difference of 285 cases is staggering, and is only getting worse as other problems such as the abuse of prescription drugs continues to rise.
Crow elders face another problem, especially those who are dependent on the Indian Health Service. In a report by Native News Online, many patients who go in to see a physician at the I.H.S. are sent home with pain medication or cough medicines, which only serves as a Band-Aid to a much larger health issues. Family members living with elders and facing financial struggles are likely to steal and sell pain medications, which is another alarming trend across the U.S. The thefts often go unreported for fear of retribution or getting in trouble with law enforcement.
American Indian elder women face an even bigger problem in terms of exploitative child care. According to Dr. Jervis, differentiating the exploitation of elders in cases of child care is a gray area. Many times, family members are unaware it occurs – or maybe they are, but are afraid of reporting the problem to authorities for fear of retribution from other family members.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of funding for educational programs regarding elder abuse. With the current proposed federal budget cuts expected under the current president, programs to fight the rising elder abuse problem may be lost. Native News states programs on the chopping block are located especially within the Indian Health Service, Crow Tribe Health and Human Services, and State of Montana.
The problem now rests squarely on family members to step up and protect the elders, who are considered sacred in Indian Country.
The first step in combating elder abuse is knowing and understanding the laws. Adult Protective Services in the State of Montana has an excellent web page for questions regarding elder abuse. The National Council on Aging can be another valuable resource for those who want to educate themselves on the matter.
In case of any emergency, call 911.
Crow Tribal Police:
Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office: 406-665 9780
Adult Protective Services: dphhs.mt.gov/SLTC/APS
National Council on Aging: www.ncoa.org/