Zuni elders: Ethnography of American Indian aging

Margaret Priscilla Moss, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston


Problem/purpose. The specific aim of this focused ethnography was to provide insight into the experience of aging of the American Indian (AI) elder as demonstrated by one tribe, the Zuni of New Mexico. Discovering how Zuni elders construct the experience of aging and the associated behaviors allowed the researcher to deconstruct aging and then re-present it in a cogent description for this population. Such a description is lacking in the literature and will be useful in planning for culturally relevant eldercare services. Methods. Ethnographic field techniques were used to sample from elders, pueblo members-at-large, activities, events and places. Over 1800 hrs were spent in the field spanning 14 months and five site visits, with the longest at almost 4 weeks. Developing codes for transcribed interviews, field notes, supplementary documents, photographs, videos, and artifacts was carried out during analysis. Categories and ultimately a cognitive map and model were developed which represented aging in Zuni Pueblo in 2000. Findings. Zuni elders are aging in two worlds. Their primary world has been described as a sevenfold universe, a complicated structure with seven planes wherein the middle plane refers to themselves, a synthesis of all the other planes. The increasing influence of the white world has formed a ‘new middle’ out of which everyday aspects of aging are viewed. Implications for nursing/gerontology. Nurses and others in gerontology must recognize that vast differences in worldviews are present between themselves and AI elders regarding health practices, spirituality, eating patterns, family roles, medicine, religion and countless other aspects of life. Their centuries old beliefs and practices drive these differences coupled with a collision with the white world. Making a paradigm shift using an appropriate lens with which to view these differences can only increase our understanding and efficacy in delivering culturally relevant care.

Subject Area

Nursing|Cultural anthropology|Gerontology

Recommended Citation

Moss, Margaret Priscilla, "Zuni elders: Ethnography of American Indian aging" (2000). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9974591.