The Resilience of Native American Elders

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Abstract Accepted for Presentation at the Gerontological Society of America
61st Annual Scientific Meeting
November 21 - 25, 2008
National Harbor, MD

The Resilience of Native American Elders
Grandbois, D.M. & Sanders, G.F.

Based on the historical and contemporary challenges that Native people have endured in this country, it is plausible to assume that Native elders exemplify Masten's (1994) definition of resilience, which relates to " how effectiveness in the environment is achieved, sustained or recovered despite adversity" (p. 4). Furthermore, Native Elders have unique cultural and historical characteristics that make them of particular interest for a more comprehensive understanding of the psychological processes of resilience, yet these Native American elders are completely absent in the resiliency literature. This study focuses on the lived experiences of resilience in eight Native American elders. To understand resilience among Native American elders, a qualitative research design was employed that utilized an interpretive approach. Data were collected through semi-structured face-to-face in-depth interviews with eight Native American elders fifty-five years of age or older. The seven themes that emerged are 1) resilience must be studied and understood within the context of the Native American worldview; 2) resilience is embedded within Native American cultures; 3) Native elders attain their strength and resilience from each other, their families, relatives, and tribal communities; 4) Native elders drew strength from their ties to the land, to nature, and to the Oneness they feel with all creation; 5) resilience comes from a legacy of survival passed down by the ancient ones; 6) elders were resilient because they felt responsible for their actions and held themselves accountable; and 7) attaining an education and employment fostered hope and resilience. Further studies are needed to explicate the dynamics of resilience among the first Americans of this nation