Research on indigenous elders: from positivistic to decolonizing methodologies

Gerontologist. 2014 Feb;54(1):117-26. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt067. Epub 2013 Jul 10.


Although indigenous peoples have lower life expectancies than the social majority populations in their countries, increasing numbers of indigenous people are living into old age. Research on indigenous elders is informed by a number of research traditions. Researchers have mined existing data sets to compare characteristics of indigenous populations with non-indigenous groups, and these findings have revealed significant disparities experienced by indigenous elders. Some investigators have attempted to validate standardized research tools for use in indigenous populations. Findings from these studies have furthered our knowledge about indigenous elders and have highlighted the ways in which tools may need to be adapted to better fit indigenous views of the constructs being measured. Qualitative approaches are popular, as they allow indigenous elders to tell their stories and challenge non-indigenous investigators to acknowledge values and worldviews different from their own. Recently, efforts have extended to participatory and decolonizing research methods, which aim to empower indigenous elders as researchers. Research approaches are discussed in light of the negative experiences many indigenous peoples have had with Eurocentric research. Acknowledgment of historical trauma, life-course perspectives, phenomenology, and critical gerontology should frame future research with, rather than on, indigenous elders.

Keywords: Activism; American Indian older adults; Conceptual development; Cross-cultural studies; Diversity and ethnicity; Life course/life span; Methodology; Qualitative research methods; Quantitative research methods; Theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / ethnology*
  • American Native Continental Ancestry Group
  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Community-Based Participatory Research
  • Geriatrics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Narration
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander*
  • New Zealand
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Design*
  • United States