Protecting Elders: College Interns Administer Tribal Member Elder Protection Surveys


Elder Protection Surveys

These four tribal members worked as interns for the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes during their 2018 college spring break week. The interns conducted surveys to tribal member elders as part of the Elder Protection Grant. From left: Annissa Courtney, Leah Hummingbird, Jessica Lee and Levi Pohocsucut.

The majority of college students cannot wait for spring break. Whether it's to go on a trip or just to take a break from studies, it is always a welcome time. For four tribal members, this year's spring break was not only an opportunity to earn extra cash. Instead, it was a chance to visit with elders and learn about their concerns.


Four out of nine applicants were selected to conduct surveys as interns for a tribal grant awarded by the National Indigenous Elder Justice Program. The criteria was based, in part, on being not only a tribal member enrolled in college but also having a major within the social science or medical field. The four selected applicants were Annissa Courtney, Leah Hummingbird, Jessica Lee and Levi Pohocsucut.


The interns went through a two-day orientation on March 19-20, 2018, that included training on confidentiality, various types of elder abuse, and how to conduct both in-person and telephone interviews.


A key component that the interns learned was to state their family, such as names of parents and grandparents, when first meeting elders. For example, when asked byWichita Tribal Newsabout their experiences, intern Jessica Lee also stated in an emailed response to which family she belonged.


"I am a member of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and a descendant of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma," Lee said. "I am a direct descendant of Se-ah-to 'Sylvia' Stephenson Campbell (Nuss Stephenson's sister) and O-ke-mah, a head man of the Mexican Kickapoo. My paternal great-grand parents were Jasper Eskew and Vera Campbell Eskew, and maternal great-grandparents were Elmer Roundtree and Ma-me-nah-kah-ko-quah 'Edith' Wahweah Roundtree. My paternal grandparents are Richard and Janice Eskew Lee, and maternal grandparents were Joe 'Na-chi-the' Roundtree and Naoma Coslow Roundtree."


Upon completion of the training, the interns then devoted their time to completing surveys with both Wichita and non-Wichita elders in the area. Intern Leah Hummingbird shared the importance of listening to what elders have to say.


"Through interning, I had the opportunity to interact with many elders," Hummingbird said. "I gained a better understanding of how important elders are, and how they are the treasure of our tribe. They are smart, wise, caring, and they eagerly want to pass on traditions and share their experiences. We just have to be eager to listen."


Both Lee and Hummingbird said that there was a reluctance for some elders to speak of issues such as abuse or neglect. However, when the interns met with elders in person rather than asking questions over the phone, a more personal bond was established. This made elders open up more about their experiences.


"Some of the people who we could talk to over the phone were reluctant to do so," Lee said. "Meeting them in person created a human aspect, which enabled us to bond a bit, making them more willing to open up."


Hummingbird said while phone interviews were more difficult, some elders spoke more freely than speaking in person.


"It was much easier to do surveys in person because I had the opportunity to interact and a form a relationship with the person before having to ask sensitive questions," Hummingbird said. "I definitely got the most out of doing face-to-face interviews. Over the phone surveys were hard at times, but people also felt more inclined to freely discuss what they were feeling over the phone."


In addition, both Lee and Hummingbird also spoke about the support and encouragement that they received from the elders, with Hummingbird being "humbled and honored." Lee said that the positive words she received will help her in the future if and when times get difficult.


"The elders we interviewed showed overwhelming love and support for our service to the tribe," Lee said. "Most of them said they were proud of us and commended us for attending college and pursuing degrees. The encouragement and well wishes they had for us, some as far as going to call us the future of the tribe, greatly moved me. I will carry these happy thoughts with me as encouragement whenever I have doubts or am disheartened."


It is hoped that, in the near future, there will be a chance of these interns returning as tribal employees, based on their experiences.


"I would absolutely return to the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes as an intern or an employee," Lee said. "I would love to serve my tribe and meet people with whom I share common ancestry and experiences. Additionally, almost everyone was warm and friendly, and they created an incredibly supportive work environment."