Statement Of Heather Mann
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
Los Angeles, California
April 29, 2003
National Indian Council on the Aging
Thank you for providing this opportunity for me to speak before you today. I represent the National Indian Council on Aging, headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. NICOA serves as the nation's foremost non-profit advocacy organization for American Indian and Alaska Native elders (since 1976).
I am here before you today to share an important message from our elders. As the Environmental Protection Agency studies the effects of environmental health hazards on our elders, and the impact that our aging population will have on our environment, we ask that you bear in mind some important information about our elders.
Specifically regarding the need for research concerning environmental health:
- American Indian and Alaska Native elders become elders at age 55. That is ten years before most of the rest of the aging population.
- Elders remember a time when diabetes was a disease that had no name in any native tongue, yet now AI/AN elders experience the highest type II diabetes rates in the nation.
- Many tribal lands are located near superfund cleanup sites, uranium mines, nuclear reactors, other electricity generation centers, and large urban centers. These are all areas that continue to come under scrutiny by a variety of interested parties, including the EPA.
As we explore how these factors affect our elders, it is paramount that we conduct our research with a high degree of regard for the cultural diversity existing throughout Indian country.
The increasing incidence of chronic disease in elders influences long term care. While some tribes believe it is acceptable to place an elder in a long-term care facility, others do not. While families and persons vary by tribe, above all, our elders wish to live their lives with dignity.
Respecting the cultural variability throughout Indian country will mean understanding why an elder may resist radon testing in his or her home, or why the location of an air quality monitoring station on or near ground that is sacred may cause concern in an elder.
If you visit a tribe, or a pueblo, or the home of an elder, you will find an individual who holds a good deal of local knowledge, and a good deal of interest regarding the changes in his or her environment over time. Elders are the custodians of cultural and environmental knowledge and beliefs. They should, therefore, play a pivotal role in informing our national environmental policy.
Thank you for your time and attention today.