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Family Relations and Human Development
FRHD 3090
Michelle Preyde

Chapter 4 – Indian Elders Elders: The Image  For many Americans, Indian elders seemingly enjoy a positive, larger-than-life public image. Shaped in part by movie, all which portray elders according to sentimental clichés: wise, tolerant, spiritual, brave, taciturn, generous, and humorous  In tribal communities, a pertinent question is not whether Indian elders can live up to anyone’s image of them but whether Indian Country can cope with its own expectations of how elders should be treated  Fact that elders are so highly regarded in Indian political rhetoric contrasts dramatically with their poor health and socioeconomic status and with tribes’ frequent failure to provide adequate senior programs for them  Indian people are rightfully proud of role elders have played and continue to play, in their history. In increasingly complex society, with Indian families and communities experiencing the same wrenching stresses and changes as mainstream America, becoming more difficult to sustain traditional familial and community roles that Indian elders play Who’s an Elder?  Traditional Indian concepts of tribal elders as deserving of respect and deference exist without regard for numerical age and are defined more by significance of elders’ roles in society  Federal definitions of elderly begin at age 55, based on eligibility criteria for most Older Americans Act programs. Age 55 also used for voting membership by National Indian Council on Aging  236,713 American Indian and Alaska Native elders, aged 55 and older, live in US o Nearly 12% of population is Indian  Live on treaty-based reservations, executive order reservations, state-created reservations, or with bands of Indians who do not have federal recognition  1990 census classifies 62% of Indian elders as “urban” – live off reservation, in small rural towns and in cities of all sizes. Many relocated to large cities in 1050s and 1960s as part of termination era’s unsuccessful attempt to assimilate into mainstream society  Because urban Indian elders frequently do not access Indian health care delivery system, are not served by their tribes, and do not tend to live in ethnic neighborhoods, little known about them  Nation’s 35 or so urban Indian health centers so underfunded that they frequently can provide little more than information and referral services  Lives of many Indian elders more accurately reflected by findings of 1980 census about homes o 16% lacked electricity, 17% no refrigerator, 21% no indoor toilet, 50% no telephone. 26% homes built before 1939, 26.3% no indoor plumbing at all, only 50% had complete bathrooms indoors  Households headed by Indian elder tend to be larger than Block or non-Hispanic White households, 15.4% Indian households having 4+ persons, compared with only 3.8% for non-Hispanic Whites Assimilation  As part of extended families – which often included uncles, aunts, grandchildren, other relatives, and clan members – elders served as mentors and counselors, reinforcing wide range of more and folkways  Also helped tend crops and gardens, maintained households, and provided day care for young relatives  Over entire past century, assimilated – engendered by both federal policy and technology – began to change primary roles of Indian family members, including elders  Once-essential hunting or agricultural skills diminished in value as entire communities became reliant on processed foods. Diets changed dramatically with influx of commodity and fast foods – lifestyles became sedentary  Urban Indians, removed from extended families, lost contact with tribal socialization and support mechanisms  Although many traditional Indian families exist today, do so without geographic and cultural isolation that characterized live of their grandparents Federal Policy and Indian Families  US government show little interest in either governing Indian tribes or interfering with infrastructure of Indian families and communities  By end of 1800s, federal government had expanded initiatives to assimilate Indians into larger society o Dawes Act (1887) – “great pulverizing engine, designed to break up the tribal mass” – dissolved tribal governments and institutions o Dissolved tribal ownership of lands, and 80- to 160-acre parcels dispersed to individual tribal members, ostensibly to be farmed, even by nonagrarian tribes  As result, 2/3 Indians passed into White hands by 1943  Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier’s promotion of Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 resulted in reconstitution of tribal governments modeled after mainstream municipal governments  As result of these federal initiatives, traditional tribal decision-making procedures, consisting of deliberation, community consultation, and informal consensus building, were discarded in favor of democratic, efficiency-driven models  Educational patterns and content changed dramatically. Indian children removed from homes to be placed in federal or church-run boarding schools Boarding Schools  Late 1800s – early 1900s – establishment of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding schools  Of-reservation, English-only industrial boarding schools increasingly provided only most basic curricula for children o Indian pupils sewed school uniforms, cooked meals, washed dishes, constructed and repaired buildi
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