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Healthy aging with Dzi'is

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How do you age well? I could tell you about research on the importance of active engagement and participating in productive activities that promote societal values (if you're interested, I recommend checking out work by Verena H. Menec), but research has never been my best teacher.

My Dzi'is (Gramma*) taught me, among many other things, how to live and age well. She went to be with her sisters and brothers last July 14th but her lessons and memories remain.

I remember being 10 years old and harvesting eeyaans** (black chiton – a type of mollusk) with Gramma and my mom at Ridley Island near Prince Rupert. Gramma had her hair done and was dressed impeccably with her black ballet-style flats. We carried with us ice cream buckets and butter knives to pry the eeyaans off the rocks so that we could collect them. Gramma led the way and at one point she asked us to help her down a jagged six to seven foot rock face to reach a prime harvesting spot while the tide was out.

My mother climbed down first, leaving me at the top to lower my 60-year-old Gramma down to her. I remember thinking, as I held her forearms and hands, "This is way too much responsibility for me! I'm dangling Gramma off a tiny cliff for food!" My mom guided Gramma’s ballet flats into good footholds and she made it down in one piece! We went home, exhausted, with full buckets and Gramma went to work cooking up what we had harvested. All of my memories of my Dzi'is involve food gathering (eeyaans and berries) or hunting in local markets and second-hand stores for treasures; all of which exhausted me and energized her. She taught me to stay active and social and to keep your family busy. She never spoke directly about how she felt about aging, but she definitely did it well!

Through her example, I learned the importance of activities that promote not only societal values, but cultural and traditional ones, too. Aging well for her was being Tsimshian and everything that identity encompasses.

Notes

* There are many variants of some Sm'algyax (Tsimshian) words such as Gramma or Grandma - Dzi'is or Tsi'i'is are common versions.

** Eeyaan, commonly known as the black leather chiton, is a type of mollusk harvested from the bottom or sides of rocks in heavy surf areas.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine. All past issues of the magazine are available online.