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Michael David McNally
Carleton College (Northfield, MN 55057-4044)
Honoring Elders: Ojibwe Aging, Religion, and Authority

I seek N.E.H. support for a sabbatical year to complete Honoring Elders, a cultural history of aging, eldership, and the religious/cultural authority of elders among the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people of the Great Lakes region. Ojibwes consider respect for elders to be among their more cherished teachings, a marker of ethnic identity. I explore the rich cultural context of Ojibwe tradition to view the fuller religious significance of aging and the structure of authority vested broadly in elders to determine "tradition" in any given moment. But I also denaturalize Ojibwe eldership, setting it in historical motion to see how the ideal--and its practice in actuality--have fared, changed, and developed over time, especially in the encounter with Christianity and in the resurgence of tradition in the 1970s. Indeed, my central claim brings a detailed consideration of eldership and its authority to bear on the nagging question of the invention of tradition, an interpretive framework rejected by many Native intellectuals. If on Ojibwe grounds tradition is what elders say it is, then it is to the practices of elders' authority that we must turn to grasp the subtlety with which continuity and change fuse in Native American histories.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
American Studies

Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Research Programs

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2005 – 3/31/2006