Gitxsan Way of Knowing About Dementia

​“One night he wandered outside and was sleeping on the lawn…he had made his bed on the lawn and that really scared us,” tells Raechelle Wilson (Xsin Gans O’otsinx), Gitxsan, as she recalls a memory of her father-in-law.

Dementia is a brain condition with no known cure, and the incident rate in First Nations and Indigenous populations in BC is 34% higher than in the general population. Learning about it is part of the solution.

Together, First Nations Health Authority and the Gitxsan communities of Kispiox and Sik-e-Dakh, worked to develop a video with community members who were open to sharing their experience of caring for a family member living with dementia.  Community health nurses also contributed to the video, with the goal being to help educate First Nations audiences about things to look for and how to get help if they think someone they know may be developing dementia.

“In our First Nations culture, because dementia was never mentioned fifty years ago, this is all something new.  It’s here now.  Back then, when our Elders were getting old, people would just say they’re getting old, they’re tired…they’ve just had their days.  They never thought about dementia,”  Marlene Tait, Haida/Gitxsan, explains in the video.

Information also came from the Alzheimer Society of BC, with additional input and collaboration from Gitxsan Health Society, Thompson Rivers University, the University of Northern British Columbia and Northern Health.  Funding for this important video project was provided by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. 

Dementia is a collection of neurological symptoms, and the brain can change over time.  Everyone’s experience with dementia is different, and it affects the family as well as the person.  Gary Tait, Nisga’a, talks in the video about caring for his mother, “The hardest part…well, she forgot my name.  She forgot who I was.  That really hurt….I understand now it’s an illness.” 

Debbie Sullivan, Community Health Nurse with Gitxsan Health Society adds, “When people start getting forgetful, they don’t really tell, and so it goes quite a ways and then others start to notice.  When family notices…they often don’t really reveal that…. They may gather around that person and manage the best they can.  People need to be helped to talk about it.”

Mavis Sebastian (Simgildipnek, Lady Hummingbird), Gitwangak/Gitanyow – Gitxsan Community Health Nurse, “It’s really important that we remember that it takes a community to look after a person with dementia and to make sure they are safe in the community….When you realize your family member has memory loss, you should go to the health station and get support and education.  Because we are here for you and we will be out to help them.”  

Watch the video here​. For more information, you can contact Alzheimer Society of BC’s First Link Dementia hotline at 1 800 936 6033 or visit


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