A community’s seniors are the keepers of its culture. It’s a role that has earned respect, but is not always treated respectfully.
This is a topic that one Trent Ph.D. candidate is currently exploring. Mariana Castelli Rosa, a Ph.D. student in Cultural Studies, works as a research assistant in the Imagining Age-Friendly Communities within Communities project, a multi-partner research that investigates aging in seven Canadian cities and looks at international models that could help improve Canada’s approach to the topic.
“Representations of aging are important,” Ms. Castelli Rosa says. “They reveal our deep-rooted beliefs about what being old means. Older people are often marginalized, and it’s more obvious when you look at the intersection of age and racialization. The kind of language we use influences research and we need to be aware of it to effect social change.”
Ageing in Canadian communities
Ms. Castelli Rosa’s research will be a comparative analysis of representation of older people in First Nations, Métis and Inuit literature, including in Waubgeshig Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow and Nancy Wachowich’s Saqiyuq: Stories from the Lives of Three Inuit Women.
Both books feature older people prominently, with themes of intergenerational co-operation, the role elders play in identity and how they can help communities thrive in the aftermath of colonization.
“In Moon of the Crusted Snow, an Anishinaabe community survives because they have access to their traditional teachings, many of them passed on by seniors,” says Ms. Castelli Rosa. “Older people are central not only to the plot, but to the practice and survival of their culture.”
Cultivating positive portrayals about all types of bodies
Ms. Castelli Rosa will explore whether a desire to use traditional teachings to help communities heal from the wounds of colonization results in an idealization of aging in First Nations, Métis and Inuit literature, but she also notes that she’d like to research more positive portrayals of ageing in other cultural texts.
“I see more people advocating for the rights and needs of seniors,” she says. “Concern with seniors will slowly change how we perceive them, and enable more positive conversations about older people. I also hope that the presence of more ageing bodies makes us question our beliefs about the kinds of bodies that are marginalized and why.
“Once we start understanding how this marginalization operates, we can extend this knowledge to other marginalized bodies, such as queer or disabled people. It’s not the same kind of marginalization, but there is much to be learned from the similarities and differences. I hope the focus on seniors will help us become more inclusive.”