I have heard two perspectives regarding our state of being and COVID-19 since the virus was made known to mankind. One thing for sure, Indigenous peoples and their cultures respond to it very differently than most Western people and cultures.
The new normal of the Western world is what would be considered a natural cause in the Indigenous world, not that it was wanted but it was anticipated from original and oral traditional teachings. There is not a definitive definition for Indigenous because being Indigenous just is and with that comes the mind or consciousness that comes from an infinite world.
The Western world suffers from the uncertainty of COVID-19 because power that was once held by politics, money, institutions and the dominant society now finds itself not any more armed against the virus than the invisible populations who do not represent the powerful forces. The shift in knowledge and knowing of the natural world will make its presence simply by observation and knowing how to respond to the earth and its people.
The following examples were taken from the International Indian Treaty Council discussion held May 15. It was noted that there will certainly be some consequences from not taking responsibility for COVID-19, including not recognizing the rights of Indigenous people. However, the responsibility for ensuring the safety of each tribal community remains in force nation by nation. By now you probably know that Indigenous people are hard hit by this pandemic but do not receive any attention for it. Unless resources are made available, Indigenous people will remain a population with the least amount of immunity to the virus and with least amount of protection.
Jalisco, Mexico: the Indigenous population still receives a good part of their drinking water from springs and streams and any contamination will have fatal consequences. The health and safety of their water depends on the health and safety of their Indigenous people.
Puerto Rico: the Indigenous populations of the Taino were the first Indigenous peoples of the Americas that were displaced, and that impact is still being felt by the ongoing threats from environmental pollution and its accumulations, mining and oil companies. Since March 8, when their first COVID-19 case was known, the people responded with quarantine practices. However, the government is still letting people into their homelands.
Brazil: we find has the highest amount of Indigenous cases with the greatest amount found in the Amazon. However, the government does not recognize the positive COVID-19 cases among Indigenous people if they do not live in their Indigenous community. You may ask why is this important? This is important to tribal communities because their people who are infected will eventually return to their community. Indigenous lives matter.
Acoma Pueblo and Navajo Nation: these communities are disproportionately impacted because of the health conditions found in these populations prior to COVID-19: diabetes, high blood pressure and impoverished areas. The conditions of this population impact the number of those with cancer. For example, the uranium mining contaminated areas have not been cleaned up. There are still un-reclaimed mines that contribute to the 3,204 known infections found in the area. Navajo Nation has a total of 102 COVID-19 related deaths. There are only 13 supermarkets on Navajo which has an approximate land base size of Ireland. About 17% of their population is without running water and electricity. To sum it up environmental violence amounts to environmental genocide.
Kenya, Africa: and in other areas COVID-19 contributes to ongoing displacement due to competition over natural resources. Land issues affect health, and food production, movement has slowed and many communities cannot be reached. The wearing of masks and other precautions are being enforced in disrupted communities. Most of the Indigenous African populations are aware that life will never be the same and again state we must have a plan.
In our country, we are debating about when businesses, institutions and public events should be reopened. Even protesters are asserting their rights to be in open places and spaces, many without any regard to safety measures and the well being of their communities. Uncertainty is for a reason, and in the immediate we have Indigenous spirituality, and going forth we also have Western science and it will require patience. Until the knowledge regarding COVID-19 is apparent, remember that generosity is a virtue and goes beyond your own community.
Vivian Delgado is a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University.