This is a story about balance. It is a story about how, when we find ourselves in crisis, there is a sense that we are out of balance. This is the time when we must lean further into our teachings and cultures. This is when we lean into our responsibilities. This is a story about what is sacred and what is revered.
The COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously demonstrated the resilience in Indigenous communities and laid bare the existing systemic disparities in access to what so many others have available. Our leaders quickly closed our communities to those from the outside. This was an effort to protect our most valuable asset: our people. It ensured that our Elders would be protected. It ensured that our children, who we hold as sacred, would be shielded. It was a measure to ensure that those who carry the cultural knowledge that we revere would be safe.
These actions were taken to ensure the protection of our lifeways. But, it was also a grim realization that should COVID-19 arrive in our communities, due to the disparities caused by hundreds of years of colonial imposition, there could be great difficulty in managing the consequences of the disease. After all, physical distancing measures are difficult for those in overcrowded housing. Frequent handwashing is difficult for those without clean running water. Ensuring spaces have appropriate air circulation and ventilation is difficult when living in moldy dwellings is common. And, comorbid conditions that increase risk for poorer COVID-19 outcomes are difficult to avoid for those who struggle with food insecurity.
Services closed. Disparities widened. Our women and children at risk went without shelters and safety. Our family members experiencing addiction went into withdrawal and mental health difficulties grew. Our Elders could not access the medical care that they required. And, the fallout of lack of economic opportunity, cultural dispossession, and the constant undermining of self-determination and self-efficacy coupled with the illnesses inherent in social media meant new, dangerous stories began entering our communities.
But this is not a hopeless story. Many of those in our communities did what so many generations of our people did to maintain wellness: we went out on the land. The structure that the natural world provides our days and actions is foundational to our wellness. On the land there is no overcrowding. There are no moldy dwellings. We can find safe water. The food is lean and free from the processed additives that make us ill. There is sleep. There is physical activity. On the land, there is purpose, hope, belonging, and meaning. There are things to do each day that must be done.
There is also hope that the world holds a place for us, our children, families, and communities. There is belonging with others and with all of our relatives, from the earth to the sky, with our ancestors and those yet to come. And, there is a greater reason which compels us forward, that orients us to our responsibilities as citizens of a community to care for the most vulnerable. Many leaned into their responsibility to care for each other. This is what we had always done. We arranged food and supplies for those who could not do this on their own, either due to age or illness. Many used the opportunity to connect with our children and to show them who they are as Indigenous people. Many supported our family members in providing for safety, warmth, and support through mental health and addiction difficulties.
As we navigate the second wave of the pandemic, it is time again to find balance. We can find new ways to connect. We can use technology, where it is accessible to us. We can seek teachings from our Elders on the appropriateness of moving our stories, songs, and ceremonies to virtual spaces. We can embrace truth and send those stories from social media that emerge to disrupt and disorient back out of our communities. We can continue to be responsible to ourselves, our families, and our children by ensuring that we are keeping COVID-19 from our doorways by doing what is in our control. We can continue to support those who are most vulnerable by arranging for food, firewood, and company. We can arrange our services such that they do not close completely to those who most need them. And, we can continue to look after each other, as we always have. And, we can do it with wisdom, love, respect, courage, honesty, humility, and truth. In the beginning the creator put everything we would need here with us.
This article is a component of a collection that will be published by the Royal Society of Canada. The collection is available here: https://rsc-src.ca/en/covid-19