The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out a lot of different emotions and actions for me personally and in our communities. In Native culture, we have a special reverence and protective instinct toward our elders. They are the ones that carry the knowledge of our culture, ethics and spiritual way of living. The thought of losing them to the pandemic is scary.
Our people have experienced so much loss over the years, and we are still dealing with the effects from those events. We are still rebuilding. I’ve seen our communities reach out to our people with food distribution and mental health support. I’ve seen our youth working with our elders to reach out to the community to teach and maintain connections. Youth and elders working together has always been our traditional way. Each one benefits from the other. We take care of each other. We’ve used the protection of our elders to encourage each other to wear masks. That’s how ingrained in our culture that concept is.
My personal journey during this time has been primarily a spiritual one. I have turned inward to work on some of my hurts from the past. I have spent more time in prayer. I’ve been contemplating some of the basics - the connection between our bodies, our souls, creation and our Creator. I’ve been thinking about our future as Anishinaabe and our place in this current world. How do we survive in a society that doesn’t know much about us and seems to care very little about us?
I am an urban Native, so my connection with a fully Native community is weak even when it’s at its best. During the COVID-19 time, I feel even more isolated as the reservations have limited travel to try and control the virus. The Native urban community has stopped the gatherings that have helped us to stay connected and helped us heal. There are small, distanced gatherings, but they are not the same. I don’t think the non-Native community understands how hard it is to live without being around people who understand you and share a common history. I’m a light skinned Native and I’ve always felt how important it is being part of the Native community. But during this COVID time, it’s really, really intensified that feeling.
I’ve been lucky in that it hasn’t had a major impact on me economically. But I have family and friends that have lost jobs and health insurance. Some were barely getting by to begin with and now face even more stress just trying to feed their families and keep their housing. Urban Native don’t have the backup of the reservation resources to help them -- at least not in this area.
About the author
Michele Hakala-Beeksma is an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She lives in Duluth and has worked for the 1854 Treaty Authority for 19 years. She serves on the Board of Governors for the St. Louis County Historical Society, where she works toward education and understanding between the Anishinaabeg people and the local community.