Memorial Event in District 5 Honors Elders with Balloon Release
May 20, 2022
Gila River Indian News
The elders of District 5 honored their fellow elders who passed on during the COVID-19 pandemic with a balloon release at the Vah-Ki baseball field on April 29.
“We knew that the group here would never be the same,” said Brenda Kyyitan, chairperson for the District 5 Elders Group. “We wanted to do something for the people that we lost during the two years.”
“This is truly the beginning of a healing process for our Community,” Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said. “I want to thank the District 5 Elders Committee and Elders Group for doing this. This is really going to be a movement among our Community—to heal; to remember all our loved ones.”
Other notable guests in attendance that day included Lt. Gov. Monica Antone, District 5 Council Representatives Brian Davis Sr. and Wahlean Riggs, former Lt. Gov. Robert Stone and District 5 service center staff.
Many expressed that the Elders Center would not be the same without those they’ve lost, especially in everyday activities such as arts and crafts, bingo and chair volleyball.
“You get to see everyone on a different level than just being outside in the Community,” said D5 Elder Group Treasurer Jacqueline Zillioux. “We seem to be closer.”
She’s been most active in the group’s volleyball team, The Eagles, which is one of three teams in District 5. The teams often got together for fundraisers to travel for volleyball tournaments.
“That camaraderie just got stronger and everyone seemed to have a lot of energy and joy to be out here and active with other elders, districts and tribes,” Zillioux said.
“You’re pillars in our Community,” said Lt. Gov. Antone, who empathized with the elders and commended them on their strength throughout the pandemic. “It’s healing when we do these things and have these events.”
Words, songs and prayers were shared during the memorial event, and elders scattered across the ball field with balloons in hand to be released.
“We will never forget those individuals, but it was a symbol of letting them go and be[ing] at peace,” Kyyitan said.
“It’s a big impact. It’s a loss for all of our Community,” said Bonita “Bonnie” Lyons, vice-chairperson for the D5 Elders Group. “All the elders that we lost, we’ve lost a part of our history.”
She stressed that stories and culture need to be preserved.
Last May, the Elders Concerns Group collaborated with the Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council and the Community’s Council of Elders for “Bridging the Gap,” a virtual meeting of elders and youth to share knowledge and experiences—something Lyons would like to see more of.
The District 5 Elders Center is now open by appointment and elders who reside in the area are encouraged to join. The center offers a computer lab, exercise room and cafeteria, and it plans to resume in-person activities in June.