Honor your father and your mother,
so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12 NRSV
Last week I listened to a CBC The Current interview with In Yukon, we talk to Dana Tizya-Tramm, chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Yukon, about the challenges facing his community; Many communities in the North were able to go COVID infection-free during the first wave but are now dealing with outbreaks. They have inadequate access to health care at the best of times so the coronavirus presents a disturbing challenge.
I was struck by Chief Tizya-Tramm's comments that it is vital to protect their elders, who are the repositories of wisdom and culture.As he put it:
I could not imagine losing the elders in our community or some of the elders in our community. We have a higher per capita ratio of elderly in our community and as a first nation was moving towards modern times and looking at our traditional values as well. Our elders are really key in this modernisation, in this real guidance for our next generations and I mean their living history books with what they have seen and witnessed and what they know about the land. Losing one elder in our community is like losing a library...
These observations express such obvious respect, and the contrast with what has happened in much of the rest of the country was striking. In the first COVID wave in Ontario the vast majority of deaths were amongst the elderly in long-term care institutions. It was obvious that these facilities did not provide adequate safeguards for their residents. Between the profit motive in some, and a lack of government oversight and funding, these elders perished, often with family members shut out of the facilities. It was a travesty.
It has been shocking to read about the shrugs of some officials both in Canada and the United States about the expendability of our elders, with the implication that their lives can be sacrificed for the sake of the economy.
Recent announcements about funding for and increased staffing in long-term care here in Ontario won't be fully implemented for years when the support is needed immediately..
Three thousand years ago a set of commandments, an ethical code, emerged from a Jewish community on the move. The Ten Commandments contain prohibitions, the "thou shalt nots", but there are also positive directives which include honouring parents. As this society coalesced in the wilderness, compassion and respect for elders was considered essential and ordained by God.
We would do well to listen to our Indigenous communities and to our Judeo/Christian tradition.