Tribe Opens Custom Senior Center


Wednesday, August 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WARM SPRINGS, Ore. (AP) — The ceremonial room faces the rising sun. A sauna serves as a sweat lodge. The dialysis room is geared to treat the effects of diabetes, which hits American Indians particularly hard.

This is High Lookee Lodge, the new assisted living center on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation designed by and for elders in the 3,500-member tribe.

The 36-room lodge was dedicated with a religious ceremony Tuesday. The first two elders move in next week.

``Our elders are very independent,'' said Olney Patt Jr., chairman of the confederated Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute tribes. ``They are reluctant to leave their homes. But sometimes they do need some additional care.''

Nursing homes on the nation's reservations are rare and the number of assisted living homes for a rapidly expanding population fewer still. The number of Indians and Alaska natives over 60 is estimated at about 166,000, but the Census Bureau said the 1990 total is a 52 percent gain from 1980.

With its blend of apartments and convalescent and hospice rooms, the Warm Springs center is crafted to meet the needs of Indian elders. The tribe hopes the $4.1 million facility will provide a safe and culturally comfortable place.

Only eight elders have signed up so far. But Patt said he expects the facility to fill by year's end as elders learn it is designed to accommodate traditional ways of life.

The center is located on a bluff overlooking the heart of Warm Springs and is a short walk from the senior center and a 20-home senior subdivision.

Tribal leaders hope to bring home elders who are being cared for elsewhere.

``We have a lot of people in nursing homes, (some with) no one at home to cook for them or administer their medication,'' said Wilson Wewa Jr., a Paiute spiritual leader who volunteers with elders. ``Our people have always maintained the most important factor in helping a person attain better health is the spirituality part.''

The hospice rooms have a common area that will make it easier for families to be with their dying loved ones and conduct the final rites, Wewa said.

``Our use of drums, and we do a lot of singing,'' he said. ``You can't do that in a hospital or nursing home.''

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On the Net:

Bureau of Indian Affairs:

http://www.doi.gov/bureau-indian-affairs.html

National Indian Council on Aging: http://www.nicoa.org