Alaska Native culture

Reflections in Time of Pandemic

How are you doing? I find myself asking and answering that question in a deeper way now. Some of my old friends have even called out of the blue to check how things are going. It’s been a month of working at and staying home for me. I’ve had ups and downs, but have enjoyed connecting with folks virtually.

I see people reaching out to our Elders to check in on them and asking them about hard times. Some share how hard times are here – what their Elders shared with them about hard times coming.

Marjorie Attla in Galena. Photo by Agnes Sweetsir shared by Megan Nathanial (Margie’s granddaughter).

I checked in with my great aunt, Marjorie Attla (Koyukon Athabascan), from Galena and Allakaket. She is lonesome, but keeping in touch with her grandchildren. She’s keeping busy with crochet and beadwork. Aunt Margie said, “People need to learn how to pray. Pray to the sun and the moon. Take care of yourself first. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.” Aunt Margie has volunteered at KIYU Radio for years, where she has shared language, stories and old-time music. She’s taking a break now with the pandemic though.

I see people expressing themselves more deeply and just going for it. My friend, Teisha Simmons (Koyukon Athabascan), pushed the publish button on her blog, Paralyzed But Not. You may recall she shared some of her stories on this blog, Teisha Simmons – Strong Athabascan Woman.

Whether it is a blog, longer social media posts or video blogging, I’m glad to see more people sharing their stories and reflections. My daughter, Janessa Howard, also hit the publish button on her first blog post on Zen Lion Photography. My advice to people who talk about wanting to do a blog is that there is no perfect time to do a blog. It is a process where you have to let go of perfection, fear or for a certain set of circumstances to be in place.

I see our culture and resilience shining through various groups and gathering places.

I see our pets enjoying the company of their people and vice versa. I posted this statement on Facebook, “The last photo you took of your pet/pets is how you’re currently handling everything right now.” Over 125 people shared pictures of their pets in various expressions! I loved seeing them. Here’s a few below.

Enaa baasee’ to these owners for sharing their photos of their pets! Top left: Roxie by ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barabara Blake. Bottom left: Rocket by Eleanor Yatlin. Right: Flurry and Malachi by Laurel Katchatag.

I see Mother Earth giving us a message of how she can start to be healed in a matter of weeks. Yes, it at a high cost of our sheltering in place with the economy suffering. But I find myself thinking of  things that we as humans can do to change the trajectory of Mother Earth’s destruction. I see animals being able to enjoy Mother Earth also.

I see people are waking up to and exploring spirituality, and re-awakening traditional ways of being and medicines. Artists are sharing their coloring pages. Musicians are doing live performances. I see them uplifting people in isolation. Storytellers are sharing wisdom and teachings with us. Poets are doing readings online. My friend, Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Dena’ina Athabacan), has been sharing ‘Native Poem-A-Day’ posts on her Writing Raven blog.

Here is some advice from Dr. Paneen Petersen (Iñupiaq). She’s a genetic epidemiologist!

“I don’t care if the only thing you felt you accomplished today was getting dressed in yesterday’s worn clothes. You’ve done enough, my friend. You don’t need to bake, create, build, or organize to impress me. You don’t need to improve yourself. I care for you just as you are. You don’t need to feel like you should be still living your best life in quarantine. Today you did something incredible. You chose to protect your family and others by isolating your household. Every day you take on the responsibility of protecting one another by following public health mandates the best you can. That’s enough. I’m already thankful and proud of you for that.

What would make me over the moon, though, is if you would also ask for help when you need it. If you don’t understand something COVID-19 related, or you are eager to share important information you saw in media or social media and you need to verify it with a public health or medical professional (because you really should verify it). ASK someone like me, an actual public health professional. I do not have all the answers, but I do know where to find them.”

Paneen said people just need to hear it’s okay to ‘just be’ right now. That makes me feel so much better. I’ve had my ups and downs with beading and other projects. I love it, but sometimes I’m just not in the right mindset or just don’t feel like it. This gives me permission to let go of the guilt for not accomplishing things right now or comparing myself to others who are doing things. Find Paneen on Twitter at @ShangriLa_Divaq.

My friend, Joaqlin Estus (Tlingit), said “I’ve had interesting phone conversations with friends. One said she and her 5-year-old grandson were talking while he sat on the arm of the couch next to her. He asked, ‘How come you look so old?’ She replied, ‘Because I am old. The wrinkles are from living a good life.’ He replied, ‘We’re all getting older. I’m going to be six on my birthday.’ She gave him a kiss.” Joaqlin is a reporter for Indian Country Today.

My friend, Marisa Sharrah of Fairbanks, shared about the importance of face coverings.

“Per our local healthcare rock stars Dr. Simon and Dr. Nace, and our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink – everyone that goes in public is encouraged to wear a face covering at all times. Covering your mouth and nose prevents your droplets from being exposed to others. It’s how you can help protect others. It can also aid in self-protection. Wearing gloves is another way to protect yourself. If you don’t get other people’s droplets on your hands and then touch your face (mouth, nose, eyes), you’re limiting your exposure risks.

Another way to protect yourself, your family, and your community is to limit the amount of time you spend in public. If you NEED something, then wear a face covering and gloves. Then remove those articles according to CDC guidelines.

If you need to go to the store, don’t pack your whole family up. Send one person. Also, it’s important to remember that if you see a mom or dad in the store with their children in tow it’s possible they don’t have resources to leave their children with others in order to run to the store. This is one of the reasons it’s important for everyone else to follow recommendations. We can all help provide protections for not only ourselves, but for others. We need to spread this word wider than it’s currently being spread. Tell your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors. This is important. #MaskUpFairbanks”

Have the supplies and time to make masks? Check out Alaska Mask Makers.

Don’t beat yourself up for having emotional ups and downs also. It’s okay to reach out to friends, family, counselors, or others you can rely on if you’re having a tough time.

Overall, I’m looking for ways to be grateful and keeping hope for the future. I encourage you to reach out to Elders to check-in and ask them how they are doing and ask them to share a story. My Elder mentor, Archie Mason (Osage/Cherokee), said to “Listen carefully to Elders – their words in their language, histories, and teachings, because there’ll be someday when they won’t be with us anymore.”

Please feel free to share your reflections and stories in the comments. Enaa baasee’.

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8 thoughts on “Reflections in Time of Pandemic”

  1. Funny I was thinking and praying for all of you and everyone else yesterday. Then today I received your message page. I’m thankful to be able to receive good news during these serious times. Please keep up the communication.

  2. So preaceful to read your stories and hear your narritave voice … quyana we all appreciate you SOOO much. Quyana!

    1. Enaa baasee’, Akall’eq! Sometimes I have a little to share and sometimes a lot. I felt like I could continue writing! ?

  3. Great post, Angela. I appreciate all the advice and wisdom. I have been reaching out to my elders, too. Just knowing they went through hard times makes living through our current times seem more possible.

    1. Enaa baasee’, Lynn! Yes, Elders have a way of calming me with their stories and presence (even over the phone).

  4. Good words Angela. You have a gentle writing style that is so calming and informative. The questions you bring up seem to expand awareness and affirm the value of everyone’s experience. Stay safe!

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