Members Offer Their Expertise to Elders During the 19th Annual Event

At the 19th annual Elders Conference, held at Turning Stone Resort Casino, Nation Members took center stage in several workshops to offer their own unique how-to skills to help Elders. The conference is a presentation of the Oneida Indian Nation and offers the region’s Elders and their caregivers an opportunity to connect with the Nation community.

This year, the conference opened with its featured keynote speaker, Dr. Darryl Tonemah, for a presentation on staying positive and the importance of laughter in your life. The old axiom that laughter is the best medicine is very true, and even more so as we age.

Dr. Tonemah tied in his talk with some of his own personal experiences in directing positive energy. He described one situation where a child was crying uncontrollably. He instantly noticed it would be next to impossible to apply verbal reasoning to figure out why the child was bawling, so he implored the child to breathe with him as he played his flute. The child took six deep breaths for seven seconds apiece as Dr. Tonemah played long notes, eventually inviting the child to try covering the holes as he played.

“The feeling of overwhelm is not relinquished until we feel safe,” Dr. Tonemah explained. “Otherwise it stays charged up for the purpose of survival. It’s our gut feeling.”

Personal sovereignty over your own body affects how you behave. If we are in control, we know we are in a safe place.

“When I control my body, I can control all of these outside things to help my people and my community,” he said in closing.

Later that morning, the conference split for a couple of workshops aimed at providing Elders and their caregivers with tips to improve their quality of life. Tammy Tarbell (Turtle Clan), an information technology support coordinator for the Oneida Indian Nation, delivered a presentation on basic smartphone functionality.

Tammy went over how to answer calls, how to use the speakerphone function, how to send and save pictures, and much more in addition to answering any questions from Elders.

“If you’re going to get a smartphone, you should know how to get the most out of it,” Tammy said.

With that, she went over many of the basic functions for iPhones as well as for the Android operating system, which many Elders said was trickier for them to navigate. The slideshow explained the proper function commands for each type of device. Many used what they learned right in the room so they wouldn’t forget.

Exploring Medicinal Herbs and Spices

Laughter may be known as ‘the best medicine,’ as the theme for the annual Aging Well Elders Conference suggests, but sometimes the cure for what ails us may be found right in our own cupboard or spice rack. Dozens of attendees packed the Tuscarora Room at Turning Stone on the opening day of the conference to hear tips and pointers from Sheri Beglen (Wolf Clan) on the health benefits of using herbs and spices found in many homes.

At the beginning of the workshop titled “Healing from the Spice Rack,” Sheri stressed that the use of herbs for medicinal purposes are not designed to take the place of professional medical treatments. She discussed the importance of sharing information with others and learning about the herbs and spices we have at home before trying them out for uses other than cooking. For example, turmeric is an herb that is an anti-inflammatory and may help improve symptoms of arthritis, but it also should not be used by people on blood thinner medication and can cause staining of teeth.

Sheri brought along several samples of common household herbs that were passed around the room for Elders to observe. She even shared a few treats such as candy-coated fennel seeds that help with digestion and ginger water, which may aide in soothing a sore throat or relieving symptoms of a common cold. Sheri’s presentation focused primarily on herbal teas. To help keep the herbs as pure as possible she suggested using a stainless steel kettle to boil the water used for tea, letting the tea ingredients steep for about a minute to a minute-and-a-half in an organic cheesecloth teabag, and drinking out of a glass teacup.

While her presentation was filled with tips on using herbs and spices such as sage to help with a sore throat, cinnamon as an analgesic, and thyme to help with respiratory issues, she also invited Elders to share their own favorites. Linda Williams (Turtle Clan) said she liked to grow her own sage and used it for making tea as well as cooking. She also recalled making tea from white pine needles and how much she enjoyed that as a special treat. Pine needles are high in vitamin C and contain antioxidants that help boost overall health.

Corn may not come to mind when thinking of tea ingredients, but the silk from organic or Indian corn can be used fresh or dried to make a mild tea that is good for the urinary system, reducing blood sugar, and reducing gout. Tea made from the crown of an ear of corn – the top kernel and the five surrounding it – is good for lifting a person’s mood.

Everyone’s tastes and reactions are different and each person should take their own approach to herbal teas, Sheri explained.  “What might be good for one person is not necessarily good for another” she said.

Sugar Alternatives

On Day 2 of the conference, Kathryn Halbritter (Wolf Clan) delighted many Elders in the Tuscarora Room with several delicious alternatives to refined granular sugar, which can do damage to the body if consumed in large amounts.

Her presentation touched on the more natural alternatives for sweeteners including stevia, honey and the natural sugar alcohols from the fibers of fruits and vegetables. Stevia, a natural sugar, can even lower your blood pressure and blood sugar.

According to the American Heart Association, a healthy amount of sugar per day is nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women. The amount seemed low even to Kathryn, but provided another eye-opener to the Elders concerned with striking a healthy balance of sugar.

The most shocking part of the presentation was showing how much sugar is packaged in many of the products we buy at the store. Raisin Bran, considered by many to be a healthy cereal, had six teaspoons of sugar per serving while a 16 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew had 18 teaspoons of sugar; well over the recommended amount for an entire day.

“I think it’s best to stick to more natural sugars like fruits and other things our Creator made for us,” Kathryn said. “It’s important to give yourself manageable goals for adjusting your sugar intake. Too much of a good thing can still be bad so moderation is key.”

To accent her presentation, Kathryn was joined by two Turning Stone chefs for a couple of cooking demonstrations. The Elders were able to taste test all of the sweet treats, including a healthy brownie and chocolate chip cookie.

To close out the two day conference, Haudenosaunee dancers thrilled Elders with several social dances. Chris Thomas led his troupe featuring Brooke Thomas (Wolf Clan), Cameron Schenandoah (Wolf Clan) and Hickory Edwards from the Onondaga Nation. The group was happy to display their skills and even posed for some photos after their performance.

The 19th Elders Conference was another big hit for all in attendance. Many, like Cricket Williams (Turtle Clan), look forward to it each year.

“It’s always a blast,” Cricket said after day one. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning for more fun.”

Thank you to all of the Elders and their caregivers that attended this year’s conference.