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Stakeholder Spotlight: The Edmonton Aboriginal Seniors Centre (EASC)

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We had the privilege of interviewing Deborah Rose, Executive Director of the Edmonton Aboriginal Seniors Centre. We learned from her that the Centre is celebrating its 37th anniversary this year!

Much wisdom from the community has passed through the doors of the EASC, and the Centre is growing into a strong hub of interculturalism and diversity where seniors of different nations gather together to share, support, listen and learn from each other.

The Centre is an Indigenous-led organization that prides itself on welcoming all people; “We have 305 members and 17 people are not indigenous”, says Rose.  Generosity guides many of the programs offered at EASC. “We are a culturally aware organization. We embrace all seniors here because all our programs are designed with seniors in mind, so we make sure we have their input in all that we do,” affirms Rose.

This statement is reflected in the 25 services and programs the Centre runs based on the commitment to listening and honoring the community and its culture.

For a start, EASC adapted their building to be set up in the form of a circle because of the significance of this shape to indigenous communities.  To adapt more of their activities to the outside of the Centre “we also built a fire pit in our outdoors, and weather permitting and when there are not fire bans, every day of spring, summer, and fall, we start the day with a fire. We boil tea or coffee in the fire; we offer our clients some sweets. We usually start with a smudge and a prayer. Clients come with guitars, and we all sing, and we share stories, because stories are really important to our senior elders”, shares Rose.

They also built a laundry program after listening to the needs shared by senior elders struggling financially after the impacts of COVID 19. “While trying to figure out what the barriers are for some of the seniors to come back to their homes, we learned that one of the things that was happening was that when people have little income, buying soap for laundry becomes a luxury. That is when we created the laundry service. We offer soap and softener at no charge, but the special thing is that some seniors prefer doing their laundry here in our building while having coffee and mingling. 

Some attend workshops or programs while doing their laundry and some just sit and chat, what you saw back in the day when people got together to fold clothes, have tea, bond and build community. That is the kind of meaningful work that happens at EASC”, says Rose with a smile.

Some of the programs and services offered at the EASC include translation services, a housing project, and a book club that accommodates readers with visual and hearing disabilities. They provide cultural medicines, have programs to make moccasins, ribbon shirts, and skirts, all the while providing attendees the materials needed.  They celebrate together festivities such as Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day “We recognize the role of our ancestors and family. This is important in our culture. We share a meal, we pass the feather in a circle and we share the role of those who mother us”. Add Rose.

Most of our donations and budget is used to buy supplies for our programs like medicines, beads, materials, and food. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough funding to hire staff to run the programs and create continuity. We rely heavily upon partnership programs, such as practicum students from the University of Alberta, MacEwan University , NorQuest, and CDI College. We also have a partnership with the O'Chiese First Nation school who provides summer students to serve our center”, explained Deborah.

EASC receives some funds from the City of Edmonton to operate the senior centre, but minimal support from other levels of government. The Centre has managed to create space for the needs of its clients and community through creativity, adaptability, innovation, and an entrepreneur spirit. “We have 305 members but we do serve much higher numbers. Our membership fee is $5 per year, however, some clients cannot afford it. Whether they are members or not, there is a place for them here; our Centre is warm and welcoming”, states Rose.

EASC supports most of its programs through fundraising, landscaping services, and events where they sell lunches and snacks to the community while they provide music and an opportunity to learn about the aboriginal culture and other cultures. “These events are a channel and opportunity for people to speak their own languages in the context of celebration. We get really good feedback and support from the community. Many locally owned businesses such as Nelson Lumber buy lunches from us as a way to support us.  That is the way we fundraise, receiving support as a small organization from our local business. Our Indian tacos and bison burgers are a hit” shares Rose.

They also work in partnership with the Native Counseling Services of Alberta (NCSA) sharing a community garden located in the heart of Edmonton “we helped clear the land and we plant our vegetables, herbs, and fruits every year. We are trying to support access to rich foods for our clients by creating resources, but it is not enough, people are not easily accessing proper and balanced diets because they cannot afford it. Harvesting our garden does help provide some relief for some months of the year, and we are thankful for this partnership, but our weather added to their financials creates a gap for winter and spring”.

On June 21st the Centre will be hosting an “All Generations” celebration. Through funding from partners like the Buffalo Sage Wellness Program of NCSA, and Stan Daniels Healing Centre, the activity will provide multiple speakers recognizing aboriginal children, youth, adults, and elders . A video on aging will be presented by BearPaw Media and Education.

If you or your organization would like to partner and support EASC please contact Deborah Rose at 587.525.8969

Some of the needs expressed are around portable housing and transportation for seniors visiting the city out of their reserves while they are attending medical appointments.

Ways you can be Involved:

  • Father’s Day gift cards: the center hosts a similar celebration to Mother’s Day. This year’s Father’s Day theme is about the role of knowledge translation and around 60 older men attend. If you are able, surprise these elder men with your gifts!
  • Ordering lunch: consider hiring EASC for your next event. Your choice will contribute to the many programs and services they offer to the community.
  • Sponsor an event: EASC-hosted celebration is possible thanks to sponsorships. They are always looking for products (food) to sell and financial support to be able to host events.
  • Attend an event: EASC makes revenue by selling food at community events. Participate and bring along friends and neighbor’s
  • Time: Organizations like EASC survive thanks to the generous work of volunteers. There is opportunity for intergenerational work, as well as related to assisting gender violence. To find more about these opportunities please contact 587.525.8969
  • Funds for a growth tower: One of EASC’s projects is to raise funds to buy growth towers that can help provide fresh vegetables for seniors year-round.
  • Funds for printing: Most of EASC clients do not have email addresses or are not part of the online world. They need funds to print and distribute (mail out) their newsletters so they can reach out their clients and new audiences that could benefit from their programs.
  • Hire gardening services: Landscape your garden or land using the skill and wisdom of EASC elders.
  • Donate craft materials: ESCC is supporting evacuee's older adults with crafting supplies like beads.