Meanings of eldership in the urban Native American community in the Greater Boston area
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This qualitative research study explores the meanings of Eldership and eldering in a local urban Native American community in the Greater Boston Area. Studies regarding older Native Americans often use “older adult” and “elder” synonymously. By relegating aging to simply a “chronological pace,” researchers assume that Native communities view time and the transition into elderhood as an independent physiological experience, when alternative understandings may exist. Urban Native Americans may not have ties to the land they live on, are separated from the culture and traditions of their tribal members on reservations, and are consumed by the dominating modality of their colonizer. However, an urban Native community continues to exist in the Greater Boston Area in Massachusetts. This in part is due to the persistent efforts of elders within the community over time who elder-in-place: they maintain networks and pass down knowledge to younger generations within a co-constructed shared space. However, when an elder passes or moves away, there is a “gap” in the community’s network. The challenges Indigenous peoples face further inhibit transitions into Eldership or the practice of eldering. Indigenous organizations such as Native American LifeLines (NAL) and North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) provide services, although limited, to try and help overcome such problems, including transport services, health care outreach, employment training and opportunities, and cultural workshops. By working together and with non-Native organizations, such groups can fortify the Indigenous structure in the Greater Boston area. NAICOB in particular, with its fifty-year-long history and community-driven structure, acts as a place-in-eldering: a ‘living’ Indigenous being which enacts Eldership at an organizational level. However, NAICOB is a place-in-eldering insofar as community members elder-in-place. Many issues promote a negative feedback loop which deters individuals from consistently participating at NAICOB. This lack of engagement in turn makes it difficult for the organization to show how they support the community when applying for grants. It is through an active symbiotic relationship between place and person which allows individuals to transition into Eldership in Boston. In this way, it is possible for the next generation of elders to fill the current “gap” in the community and promote engagement. From analyzing these relationships and interactions, we can see that these Eldership attempts to continue the vision of a “good life”—social and emotional wellbeing for not only themselves, but the entire community as well.