NENAS Elders Group seeking new members

The North East Native Advancing Society (NENAS) is looking for new members to join its Elders Group.

The initiative was founded in 2020 by NENAS to provide a social setting for First Nations members over 55.

According to Val Apsassin, the Elders program coordinator for NENAS, people can join any time as it is a drop-in group.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was a great initiative put together with NENAS,” said Apsassin. “We share a lot of laughs and one another's company.”

During their days together, Elders discuss current events, engage in arts and crafts and speak to youth aged three to five about Indigenous culture.

They also participate in group trips, whether it’s to Dunvegan Gardens to learn about the best soil and fertilizer for their garden or to the Fort St. John North Peace Museum to see a screening of the film “The History of the North Peace.”

Apsassin says the group likes to be “tourists in their own town.”

Meetings usually end with a game of food bingo, which uses food groups rather than numbers on the playing card. The game ends when someone has five food items on their card.

“Everyone’s a winner with NENAS food bingo,” said Apsassin.

Elder Shirley Sulman says that charitable events organized by the group, such as a hamper food drive, will soon follow.

But, while there is camaraderie between what some group members describe as a “sisterhood community,” the ladies agree they’d like to see more males involved.

Elder Bernice Shadow joked there needs to be more “roosters.”

“We need to have that balance in life, right?” said Shadow. “We’re just women who meet each week, but most [Indigenous] men work and do other things.”

“It will be good to have some men in the group. They are just as helpful and needed as we are.”

Sulman feels more men in the group would be good because they could generate “new ideas.”

She notes that the male bus driver who transports the children they teach from NENAS to and from the Indigenous Education Centre for lessons sometimes joins the group.

“We have one man in the group who’s the bus driver,” she explains. “Whenever he’s not driving, he’ll go with us.”

Shadow says she has taught preschool children Indigenous teachings like the medicine wheel, and Sulman has taught lessons in gardening.

“Children love to get their hands dirty,” said Sulman. “They love to see the process, and I’ll ask, ‘Are you seeing something green grow?’”

Apsassin says another significant part of the Elders Group is connecting seniors to technology, such as teaching them how to use smartphones or tablets.

“We want to teach them how to use technology to communicate,” said Apsassin.

The Elders Group is open to Indigenous individuals 55 years of age and older and meets every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, contact NENAS at (250)787-0887 or Apsassin directly at (250)793-4263.

NENAS is a society that provides First Nations and urban community members with a wide range of services geared toward helping people gain employment and life skills.

Edward Hitchins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,