Grandbois, Donna Mae; Ph.D.
Program of Human Development, Gerontology;
College of Human Development and Education; North Dakota State University
An Exploratory Study of Resilience in the Lived Experience of Native American Elders
Major Professor: Dr. Gregory F. Sanders
Little is known about the resilience of Native elders, especially from their own perspective and worldview. Because there is a dearth of literature about their coping skills, strengths, and survival strategies, resilience is not readily conceptualized among this minority group. Studies of resilience are incomplete without a thorough exploration of how some groups of people have coped and survived when confronted by severe and unrelenting challenges. Native Americans have had to endure extreme challenges over the last 500 years and have lived through every type of trauma imaginable, including ethnic cleansing and genocide (Hall, 1999). Native American elders are recognized as the "wisdom keepers" among most tribal groups and have unique cultural and historical characteristics that make them of particular interest for understanding the psychological processes of resilience. The purpose of this study was to explore resilience through the lived experience of Native American elders. Native American elders are an untapped scientific resource because they have valuable and unique perspectives and ideologies to share with the rest of the world. The data gathered for this study were used to generate two analyses and perspectives that resulted in two papers. The first paper was titled "The resilience of Native American Elders" and revealed five themes. The second paper was titled "Resilience and Stereotyping: The experiences of Native American elders" and also resulted in five themes. Together these themes fit nicely under an over-arching grand theme of cultural resilience. The source of resilience found among these eight elders was inextricably and uniquely enmeshed in their traditional Native American cultures and worldviews. The inclusion of Native American elders in studies of resilience enhances, broadens, and diversifies the scientific knowledge base. Cross-cultural comparisons may help provide a truly multicultural understanding of resilience and could even illicit studies to understand the societal control mechanisms that perpetuate institutional racism and inequality. The results of this study indicate the need for the Native American people to define themselves both in the scientific literature and in the larger world.