Tribes try to shield elders and their knowledge from virus

Tribes try to shield elders and their knowledge from virus

As Monica Harvey watched, crowds flocked to a Sam’s Membership in northern Arizona the place she works, choosing cabinets clear of bathroom paper and canned items. Native American seniors could not transfer quick sufficient, and Harvey noticed their faces fall once they reached empty cabinets.

The Navajo lady needed to assist tribal elders get family staples with out leaving their houses and risking publicity to COVID-19, so she began Defend Our Neighborhood, a gaggle that delivers provides.

Tribes throughout the nation are working to guard elder members who function honored hyperlinks to customs handed from one era to the subsequent. The efforts to ship protecting gear, meals and vaccines are about greater than saving lives. Tribal elders usually possess distinctive data of language and historical past that’s all of the extra invaluable as a result of tribes generally go down their traditions orally. Meaning dropping elders to the virus might wipe out irreplaceable items of tradition.

“Once you lose an elder, you lose part of your self,” mentioned Harvey, who lives in Leupp, Arizona, east of Flagstaff. “You lose a connection to historical past, our tales, our tradition, our traditions.”

Harvey remembers her personal grandfather explaining the tales behind Navajo songs and educating her Navajo phrases from the songs. She usually listened to her grandparents talking Navajo whereas she practiced the phrases below her breath.

In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation has elevated meals distributions to elders and supplied monetary assist to those that have been struggling to pay lease or utilities. Concern for elders can be obvious within the tribe’s COVID-19 vaccine-distribution plans. Individuals and staff within the tribe’s elder program are first in line for the pictures, together with hospital staff and first responders. Subsequent are these whose first language is Cherokee and others thought of “tribal treasures,” an honor given to members who hold Cherokee artwork, language and different tradition alive by their work.

An effort among the many Blackfeet in Montana helps the tribe’s 600-plus members join with elders who want assist. Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Nation is offering its residents with masks and telemedicine, delivering meals to their doorways and organizing dwelling visits to present flu vaccines.

“Elders are like libraries. Shedding one is sort of a library burning down,” mentioned Loren Racine, creator of a Fb web page providing assist in the Blackfeet group.

Roy Boney Jr., who manages a Cherokee language program, mentioned the overwhelming majority of Cherokee audio system are elders. They make up a small pool of individuals this system depends on to show the language he calls the “beating coronary heart” of Cherokee id.

“For many years our language has been taken from us by pressured assimilation,” Boney mentioned. “Elders maintain our historical past and tradition but in addition our language. … Our elders are valuable.”

Virtually half of the Cherokee who acquired care from the tribe’s well being providers however died from the coronavirus have been fluent Cherokee audio system. Shedding even a handful of audio system could be devastating for language preservation and different cultural practices, Boney mentioned.

“With them goes a lot data by way of language data, dialect, specialised data of drugs and conventional practices,” he mentioned. “All this stuff we’re making an attempt to revitalize and save, they’re the guts of all of it.”

Mashantucket Pequot elders shifted to a digital format for the intergenerational gatherings the place they inform conventional tales. An elders council additionally helps to prepare Pequot language bingo nights and Schemitzun, the annual Pageant of the Inexperienced Corn.

“After we heard how COVID-19 was spreading, we have been instantly involved for our elders and the way dropping them would have an effect on the tribe, so we instantly began working to guard them,” mentioned the tribe’s chief medical officer, Setu Vora.

The tribe has no recognized COVID-19 deaths.

Pequot elders play an essential function within the effort to revive the tribe’s language, which is now not broadly spoken. Elders nonetheless keep in mind relations who spoke the language and might confirm the definitions and context of sure phrases. A handful of the tribe’s 2,000 members have gotten considerably proficient in Pequot as they analysis and reclaim new phrases, Vora mentioned.

Karen Ketcher was amongst 28 Cherokee Nation elders who’ve died from the coronavirus. She was weeks shy of her 71st birthday and had a long time of expertise working for the tribe and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Her data was unmatched and invaluable, mentioned her granddaughter, Taryn King.

“There’s a lot at stake when this virus hits our communities,” mentioned King, 31, of Stilwell, Oklahoma. She described elders as “the glue that holds our communities collectively.”

At work, Ketcher was affectionately known as “Granny.” She was the go-to particular person for questions on Cherokee insurance policies, tribal governance and the way to apply for grants. She additionally was the primary cease for snacks, assist mending holes in sweaters or questions on group relations.

One co-worker, Kamisha Hair, went into Ketcher’s workplace shortly earlier than the tribe quickly closed it in March due to the pandemic. She assured Ketcher issues can be OK and implored her to hope.

The 2 hugged and mentioned they cherished one another. Ketcher died in April.

Relations held a small outside service for her. After they returned to city, different Cherokees had lined the streets to pay their respects.

“Shedding an elder like Granny is like dropping a bit of your id,” Hair mentioned. “It dies with them, and you’ll by no means get it again.”


Related Press author Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed. Fernando and Fonseca are members of AP’s Race and Ethnicity crew. Comply with Fernando on Twitter at Comply with Fonseca at

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