Cultural Survival Q
The Future of Indigenous Health
Vol. 44, Issue 2 â€¢ June 2020 US $4.99/CAN $6.99
j une 2020 Vo lum e 44 , Issue 2 Board of Directors president
Duane Champagne (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) Vice President
Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawai’i) Treasurer
Steven Heim Clerk
–, traditional Ma–ori plant medicine, is seeing a resurgence in New Zealand. Plants such as Rongoa Kawakawa are important in traditional healing methods (see page 22). Photo by LazingBee.
Nicole Friederichs Evelyn Arce Erickson (Muisca) Valine Brown (Haida) Carla Fredericks (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara) Laura Graham Ajb’ee Jiménez (Maya Mam) Lesley Kabotie (Crow) John King Stephen Marks Tui Shortland (Ma–ori) Stella Tamang (Tamang) FOUNDERS David & Pia Maybury-Lewis Cultural Survival Headquarters 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 t 617.441.5400 f 617.441.5417 www.cs.org Cultural Survival Quarterly
Copy Editor: Jenn Goodman Designer: NonprofitDesign.com Contributing Arts Editor: Phoebe Farris Managing Editor: Agnes Portalewska Copyright 2020 by Cultural Survival, Inc. Cultural Survival Quarterly (ISSN 0740-3291) is published quarterly by Cultural Survival, Inc. at PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Periodical postage paid at Boston, MA 02205 and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Cultural Survival, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Printed on recycled paper in the U.S.A. Please note that the views in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Cultural Survival.
View writers’ guidelines at our website (www.cs.org) or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Cultural Survival, Writer’s Guidelines, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Cultural Survival recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have long been exploited by photographers and publications. This publication does not pay photographers for images and makes no money from publishing them. We also make a tremendous effort to identify every Indigenous individual in the images that appear here. From time to time, however, such identification is not possible. We apologize to the subjects of those photos and to any reader offended by the omission.
F e at u r e s
D e pa r t m e n t s
10 Indigenous Rebirth
1 Executive Director’s Message
Alexandra Carraher-Kang The Alaska Native Birthworkers Community is reclaiming ancestral knowledge to support women in all phases of motherhood.
12 Voice, Choice, and Power Ruby Gibson speaks about the potential of Somatic Archaeology© to heal trauma in Native American communities.
14 Combatting Suicide Amongst Indigenous Peoples Pat Dudgeon discusses how to stop rising Indigenous sucide rates in Australia.
16 Kasiyanna: Turning to Indigenous Knowledge During the COVID-19 Pandemic Minnie Degawan Indigenous communities in the Philippines turn to traditional practices to stop COVID-19.
18 Decolonizing Fasting to Improve Indigenous Wellness Michael Yellow Bird In an age of global food shortages and a pandemic, could the ancient healing tradition of fasting help?
4 Indigenous Arts Lost Treasures: Taiwan’s Atayal Facial Tattoos
6 Climate Change Pacific Islanders Unite to Fight COVID Amidst Extreme Climate Change Events
8 Rights in Action Indigenous Peoples to Share in Tea Industry Profits
26 Keepers of the Earth Fund Grant Partner Spotlight Eastern Woodlands Rematriation
28 Youth Fellow Spotlight Estrella Jhonaí Gutiérrez Vásquez
29 Bazaar Artists Guatemala Art and Culture Connection
20 Indigenous Peoples and Disabilities Margaret King The pandemic presents an extra, and unique, set of challenges for Indigenous people with disabilities and/or special needs.
22 Sovereignty Is Essential for Our Futures Kera Sherwood-O’Regan speaks about the intersection of the rights of people with disabilities, health inequities, and climate change in New Zealand.
24 Integrating Indigenous and Western Medicine ii • www. cs. org
2 In the News
Nicaragua is integrating Indigenous health practices in mainstream healthcare.
Cover photo: Wild strawberries gathered in Nipmuc homelands of Western Massachusetts. Photo by Nia Holley (Nipmuc)
E xecut iv e Di rector’ S messa ge
The Future of Indigenous Health
n this issue of the CSQ, we focus on the path toward the well being and health of our people and communities. We cannot talk about health without addressing the underlying causes of disease and trauma. Centuries of colonization have impacted our access to lands, territories, and natural resources, contaminated and degraded our soils and waters, disrupted access to food, medicine, and connection to our culture and our traditional knowledge. Many of us have internalized the colonial systems and structures. My personal journey is that of identifying, naming, parting ways with the deeply internalized colonial structures, and restoring my traditional knowledge systems, connecting with my ancestors, and finding ways for healing. Colonization of Indigenous Peoples has caused physical and emotional trauma, which has been passed from one person to the next, generation to generation, through our DNA, and even our societal and family structures. Often, we react from that place of trauma and not from our true loving selves, as trauma becomes a survival and coping mechanism that embeds in our bodies and overrules the rational brain. In our communities, it is manifested in many ways, such as alcoholism, violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, to name a few. However, trauma can be healed. It is essential to unpack what has caused that trauma and its multiple manifestations to provide roadmaps for healing. Healing our communities is directly connected to decolonization and returning to traditional knowledge and practices. As Indigenous Peoples, we need to look at the root causes, and metabolize our individual, collective, and intergenerational trauma to heal so that we can individually and collectively arrive at a place of love, continue doing our work, and serve as a resource for our families, our communities, other Indigenous communities, and the Indigenous rights movement. Colonization has done a lot of damage, and it has changed our relationship with the land. Bringing back our ceremonies repairs our relationship to the land, as it heals our original trauma of separation from the land. As Indigenous Peoples, we have timetested solutions as you will read about from Minnie Degawan, Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community,
Donors like you make our work around the world possible. Thanks so much for being part of Cultural Survival. Cultural Survival Staff Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director Yesmi Ajanel (Maya K’ich’e), Program Assistant Avexnim Cojtí (Maya K’iche’), Community Media Program Manager Jessie Cherofsky, Advocacy Program Researcher Danielle DeLuca, Advocacy & Development Manager Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Sofia Flynn, Accounting & Office Manager Nati Garcia (Maya Mam), Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Coordinator Adriana Hernández (Maya K'iche'), Executive Assistant
Dr. Ruby Gibson, Estrella Jhonaí Gutiérrez Vásquez and Eastern Woodland Rematriation, and others. The world faces what feels like unprecedented times right now, and Indigenous Peoples are reflecting on the experiences of their ancestors in fighting past pandemics. We are turning to traditional knowledge, practices, and values to remain strong and healthy, to feed our communities in this crisis. When rooted in the strength of our lands, cultures, languages, knowledge, ancestors, and communities, Indigenous Peoples are resilient—but even in our resilience we still face disproportionate challenges and inequities in navigating this pandemic. International solidarity is vital for the survival of Indigenous Peoples and all our relations. There is a special need to support groundbreaking initiatives managed by Indigenous governments, local community organizations, women, and youth, who are experts in what is needed on the local level and are on the ground to carry it out. For more than 48 years, Cultural Survival has been supporting Indigenous communities in asserting their rights and in protecting their lands. Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous human rights and land defenders need our support to continue protecting the lands and Peoples they hold dear. In Solidarity,
Galina Angarova (Buryat) Executive Director
Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Kumar/Sunuwar), Program Associate, Community Media Grants Project Danae Laura, Bazaar Program Manager Maria del Rosario “Rosy” Sul González (Kaqchikel), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez, (Mixe/Ayuuk ja’ay & Zapotec/Binnizá), Keepers of the Earth Fund Project Manager Jamie Malcolm-Brown, Communications & Information Technology Manager Teresita Orozco Mendoza, Community Media Training Coordinator Cat Monzón (Maya K’iche’), Executive Assistant Cesar Gomez Moscut (Pocomam), Community Media Program Coordinator Gabael Otzoy Xocop (Maya Kaqchikel), Information Technology Assistant Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’), Central America Media Coordinator Agnes Portalewska, Communications Manager Angelica Rao, Human Resources Coordinator Sócrates Vásquez García (Ayuuk), Community Media Grants Coordinator Miranda Vitello, Development Associate
INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS Arianna Adirim-Lanza, Alexandra CarraherKang, Pablo Cordon, Augusta Davis, Samantha Freedman, Kiara Maher, Carolyn Smith-Morris, Tristan Suarez.
There are so many ways to
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Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 1
i n t he new s Mexico: Los Pinos Conference Reflects on 2019 International Decade of Indigenous Languages
José Francisco Cali Tzay (Maya Kaqchikel) is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The International Year of Indigenous Languages formally ended in February, with more than 500 participants from 50-plus countries gathering to reflect on the progress made and plan for the upcoming International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032). The event marks one of the first steps in determining the goals and methods for revitalizing Indigenous languages.
Canada: Teck Withdrawals Frontier Tar Sands Project Application February
Teck Resources Ltd., one of Canada’s largest natural resource companies, has withdrawn its application for the Frontier Oil Sands Mine Project, which would have been the largest ever open pit mine.
Global: José Francisco Cali Tzay Appointed New UN Special Rapporteur March
After finishing his term on the United Nations Committee of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in January, José Francisco Cali Tzay (Maya Kaqchikel) was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Colombia: Embera Leaders Murdered During Quarantine March
Days after the two-week ceasefire Indigenous organizations had called, two Embera leaders, Omar Guasiruma and Ernesto Gausiruma, were killed on March 20 while at home in the Cauca Valley during Colombia’s quarantine order. In addition to their deaths, two more were injured during the attack.
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Photo courtesy of RIDH/Panorama diplomático.
United States: Federal Judge Rules Dakota Access Pipeline Permit Violated Environmental Act
United States: Federal Judge Revokes Permit for Keystone XL Pipeline
Construction on the Keystone XL pipeline has been halted following an April 15 ruling by Federal Judge Brian Morris to revoke a construction permit for the project. The judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the law by granting the construction permit without proper consultations.
On March 25, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by granting permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline, as they failed to conduct an environmental study of the pipeline’s effects. The decision is a landmark achievement for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who have asked for years for the Pipeline to be shut down.
United States: Federal Court Upholds Ruling that Railway Company Cannot Run Trains Through Swinomish Land March
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling forcing BNSF Railway Company to not use tracks on reservation land. BNSF was planning to run 100-car trains with oil through Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation land in Washington State, but the threejudge panel stated that the railway violated the 1948 Indian Right of Way Act, which limits the volume of railcars on tracks each day.
Australia: Nari Nari Regain Ownership of Gayini April
The Nari Nari people, after claiming spiritual ownership of Gayini in New South Wales, have finally regained legal ownership of the 880-square-kilometer block of wetland, ensuring the protection of the wetland’s ecology as well as the Nari Nari’s land rights and culture.
Brazil: Ashaninka Win Reparations from Extractive Industry April
Almost 20 years after their territory’s recognition, the Ashaninka people in Brazil won an historic $3 million settlement for reparations for crimes committed decades ago. Signed into law on April 1, the settlement, which comes with an official apology from the offenders, is based on lumber companies’ cutting down of trees on Ashaninka land to supply the European furniture industry in the 1980s.
Cultural Survival’s advocacy program launches international campaigns in support of grassroots Indigenous movements as they put pressure on governments and corporations to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of their communities.
Guatemala: Indigenous Peoples’ Freedom of Expression Case Referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Costa Rica: Murder of Indigenous Land Defender Sergio ROJAS Remains Unsolved Amidst Ongoing Violence
A petition submitted in 2012 by Cultural Survival and Guatemalan organization Sobrevivencia Cultural to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has now been referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case relates to Indigenous Peoples’ right to freedom of expression through equal access to radio frequencies. Guatemala’s current telecommunications law does not allow for nonprofit community radio, which has led Indigenous communities to operate radio in a legal gray zone and makes them frequently subjected to persecution and criminalization. Although Guatemala’s highest court asked the Guatemalan Congress to promote Indigenous Peoples’ access to their own forms of media and community radio in 2012 (a right also enshrined in Guatemala’s 1996 Peace Accords), this has still not been implemented. The referral of the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is a positive development; if the Court rules in the favor of the petitioners, the decision becomes binding and would force Guatemala to legislate in favor of access for Indigenous Peoples to radio frequencies. As the first case of its kind, the decision could set a precedent for Indigenous communities’ access to media across the Americas.
United States: Mashpee Wampanoag Land Taken out of Trust Amidst Pandemic April
On March 27, the Mashpee Wampanoag, who have lived on their lands in Massachusetts for more than 12,000 years, were notified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that their reservation would be “disestablished.” As a result, 150 acres in Mashpee and 170 acres in Taunton, Massachusetts, would no longer belong to the Mashpee Wampanoag, the same Tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims in 1620. Two lawsuits are currently pending to counter the decision, and at the beginning of April, the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed to halt the disestablishment for 45 days. The Tribe, with bipartisan support, continues to ask the U.S. Senate to pass the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act (HR.312). The Tribe filed for a temporary restraining order on March 31, and the government plan was put on hold after lawyers for the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed to refrain from taking the Tribe’s land out of trust for 45 days.
One year following the death of Costa Rican Indigenous land defender Sergio Rojas, who was murdered in his home in Saltire de Buenos, the murder remains unsolved. Despite creating a specialized investigative unit in order to pursue the crime and releasing a sketch of two suspects, no successful measures to bring justice for this crime have taken place, leaving the criminals in impunity and effectively giving the green light to perpetrators to continue acts of violence against Indigenous people who are peacefully repatriating their titled lands. In February, Jehry Rivera Rivera, another Indigenous human rights defender, was assassinated. Despite the short term responses from Costa Rican officials, these ongoing acts of violence against Indigenous defenders in Costa Rica are a result of the Costa Rican government’s failure to implement Indigenous land rights or to bring sanctions on non-Indigenous settlers on Indigenous land.
Canada: New Prosperity Mine Shot Down by Supreme Court May
The Supreme Court of Canada definitively rejected plans for a mine on the traditional land of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, after 30 years of battles in the courts. The Court denied Taseko Mines Limited’s application to appeal the Canadian government’s 2014 rejection of the proposal for the New Prosperity Mine. The mine would have affected Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabas areas, traditional Tsilhqot’in territory with great environmental, cultural, and spiritual value. The New Prosperity Mine was an iteration of the earlier Prosperity Mine, which planned to drain the sacred Teztan Biny lake and replace it with a tailings pond. Cultural Survival launched a letter writing campaign in support of the Tsilhqot’in Nation in 2013 and has brought awareness to the case since. The community will now turn their attention to the stewardship of the recently declared Dasiqox Tribal Park, a Tribally managed conservation area that includes the land that would have hosted the mine.
Read more news at www.cs.org/latest.
Cultural Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly March June 2020 • 3
indi geno u s a rts
lost treasures Taiwan’s Atayal Facial Tattoos
Kimi Sibal with Atayal elder, Jian YuYing (簡 玉英), who has since passed away.
nder a clear mountain sky, an Atayal boy of 13 prepares to transition into a man by way of a painful ceremony passed down by his ancestors. Like many boys his age, he has proven his valor by mastering the art of hunting. In another village, a girl of similar age awaits her own passage into maturity after mastering her craft of weaving. Both wait as a mixture of charcoal and pine tree oil is prepared, applied, and slowly injected into their cheeks and foreheads, a ritual that is part of the most significant coming of age ceremony for the Atayal, one of Taiwan’s 16 recognized Indigenous Tribes. Often referred to as a cultural treasure, the custom of facial tattooing was banned, and subsequently began to disappear, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan from 1895–1945. “My grandmother had facial tattoos and they were very beautiful,” said cultural advocate and historian Kimi Sibal in a recent interview. Distributed on both sides of Taiwan’s central mountain range in northern Taiwan, as well as the mountainous areas of Yilan and Hualien, the Atayal Peoples constitute the second largest Indigenous group in Taiwan with a total population of about 90,000 people. Atayal communities are organized into four groups: Tribal organizations (dealing with leadership and property), sacrificial groups (preparing sacrifices and leading ritual proceedings), gaga (a system of ancestral teachings and enforcement of societal norms), and hunting teams. “The most distinctive part of the Atayal culture are facial tattoos. While men’s tattoos symbolize adulthood and bravery, women’s tattoos symbolize skilled weaving,” says JunYu Lin (Atayal), a 33-year-old music teacher in Yilan. The Atayal Tribe uses ramie, a flowering plant in the nettle family, as raw material for weaving. These days, most people use wool to weave due to its convenience and color diversity, so the traditional use of ramie is gradually declining. “A girl who cannot
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weave and has no tattoos would likely not be able to find a husband in the Tribe,” explains Lin. After the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese war, the Japanese signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki and rose to power. In an effort to exercise authority over a group seen by colonizers as savage, Indigenous communities living in the mountains were driven to flatter land, where they were easier to regulate and control. Once the Japanese fell from power after World War II, Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang (KMT), a major political party in Taiwan, filled their position of sovereignty. With the goal to create a strong national Chinese cultural identity, the new authoritarian administration continued the pattern of oppression and maltreatment towards Indigenous Peoples. Japanese schools were replaced by those run by the KMT, and due to education reform regulations, all Indigenous people were required to learn Mandarin. However, the Chinese were not required to learn any of the Indigenous languages. Not long after, all Indigenous languages, as well as Japanese, were banned from public use. It was not until after the lift of KMT martial law in 1987 and the subsequent democratization of Taiwan that those languages that previously faced systematic oppression began to resurface. In the midst of numerous pacification techniques and prolonged persecution, sacred practices such as facial tattooing were prohibited. After years of oppression, Sibal’s grandmother had been conditioned to be ashamed of the markings on her face. As a Hualien native and a member of the Truku community, Sibal did not learn about his heritage until much later in life. He recalls an incident involving his son when he first began school that awakened him to the importance of learning about his background. The boy got into a fight with his classmates because they targeted his heritage, sneering that the tattoos worn by his ancestors made them look like monsters, and that he was from a bloodline of savages. Sibal resolved to discover the story behind his own ancestry, and to share the true meaning behind the custom of facial tattooing.
Kimi Sibal with Taroko elder, Lin Zi Li (林梓 里), who has since passed away.
Ancient tools used for facial tattooing, atok (a needle-bearing stick) is driven into the skin using a totsin (hammer).
“I took my camera, I took my voice recorder and I set out. At that time, I found that there were still many people who had tattoos,” he says. Sibal has since dedicated years of his life to the documentation of this sacred practice, and displays an extensive collection of his work in Hualien. Today, there are no remaining Atayal elders with facial tattoos. “I came to think, why have I been researching these people for all these years? Well, the words they speak are filled with history. The words they speak are rich and wonderful. After years of research, I finally began to realize why thousands of people passed down these tattoos, their meaning and their spirit,” he says. Sibal has captured hundreds of portraits of tattooed elders and has written many books about this symbolic custom. He lists four main reasons for the preservation of facial tattoos: Tribal recognition, protection against evil spirits, access to the afterlife, and beauty. Although the meanings behind these facial tattoos are representative of honor and high achievement, with the advent of colonization, they have often been misinterpreted. As Sibal’s son discovered at school, it is common for groups that practice facial tattooing to be falsely marked as uncivilized and criminal. In modern society, Indigenous populations around the globe face many challenges. Some of these difficulties include arguments over land rights, discrimination, low access to education and health services, language hegemony, and poverty. One prevalent issue faced by Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples has been unemployment. Since the government began allowing the import of minimum wage-earning foreign laborers in the 1990s, Indigenous populations have struggled to compete for a living wage. The Indigenous Peoples Employment Rights Protection Act of 2001 was designed to alleviate the high unemployment rates of Indigenous Peoples. It includes a proportionate recruitment principle, which states that at least one-third of the workforce employed by government, public schools, or State-run business must be Indigenous. The act includes other guidelines, such as guidance for Indigenous people to form a cooperative. As Taiwan continues to develop as a colonized nation, many Indigenous people have abandoned their traditional lifestyle for one of modernity. Recently, the number of Indigenous Taiwanese living in urban centers has surpassed the number of Indigenous people living in rural areas for the first time. By a small percentage, most Indigenous people now live
in Taiwan’s cities. Taiwan’s Indigenous youth have to make a serious effort to recover their Indigenous identity; they must seek out resources to learn their language and go back to their villages to try to understand their culture, which is not often taught in schools. Although Indigenous society has been threatened for decades, a number of policies have recently been introduced to protect these integral cultures and provide resources for their survival. One such example is the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Foundation in 2007, whose mission is to “pass down the legacy of culture and education of Indigenous Peoples as well as to operate a media industry promoting Indigenous cultures.” Another notable policy development is the Indigenous Language Development Act of 2017, which aims to secure Indigenous language use. The Act officially names the languages of Taiwan’s Indigenous Tribes as national languages. Moreover, the government is required to organize a foundation dedicated to the research and support of Indigenous languages. According to the Act, Indigenous languages are permitted to be used in legal affairs, official documents, and signage in Aboriginal areas. Furthermore, it is mandatory for State-run Indigenous media outlets to produce programs and publications for promoting and teaching Indigenous languages. Although the Taiwanese government has taken steps to promote Indigenous rights, such as increased Tribal recognition, government representation, and protective legislation, progress has been slow, and there is much work to be done. Through his work documenting the lives of Atayal elders, Sibal’s legacy will remain for many years to come. “As long as we are here, no matter what we do, we are not treated fairly on this earth,” he says. “There is no mutual respect. What others write about our culture, about our language, is in the eyes and interpretation of the government. They can write whatever they want, but today I am doing this honorable work because the ones that have these tattoos are my own ancestors. The most important thing is for these tattoos to be recorded. We must let the next generation know that the markings their ancestors have on their face represent bravery and capability.” —Sylvia Dean is public relations coordinator for Indigenous Bridges-ATAYAL, a Taiwanese organization working to facilitate Indigenous cultural revival by connecting Indigenous communities as a “bridge.” Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 5
cl i mat e ch a n g e
Pacific Islanders Unite to Fight COVID Amidst Extreme Climate Change Events Josevata Nagasaukula standing on Namatakula’s rapidly eroding shoreline. Photo by Salote Soqo.
osevata Nagasaukula and I walk along the western shoreline of his village, Namatakula. The village sits roughly 54 miles southwest of Fiji’s capital city of Suva and is home to approximately 2,500 people and it is at risk of experiencing a health emergency. “The neighboring province was hit most by the disease,” he says in his native dialect as we walk to the village. “We are fortunate that we were not as badly affected.” Nagasaukula was not referring to COVID-19 in this case. He was talking about the measles outbreak in the neighboring provinces of Serua and Namosi. In November 2019, the outbreak was declared a national epidemic in Fiji. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that a measles outbreak in a country experiencing conflict or natural disaster could be fatal. Epidemics like these aren’t restricted to Fiji. The Pacific island nations of Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, and the Marshall Islands are also managing a host of viral outbreaks including measles and dengue fever and, most recently, COVID-19. The coronavirus was first casually referenced in the Pacific media in early February. The virus was yet to be named and appeared to solely affect China, Italy, and cruise ships in Japan. By early March, Tuvalu, a sovereign nation of eight atoll islands, implemented a policy to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into the population of approx6 • www. cs. org
imately 10,000 people. That same week, the Marshall Islands, with about 53,000 residents, suspended all international flights to and from the country. To protect its roughly 300 islands with a combined population of 900,000 people, the Fijian government monitored all visitors and prepared to limit, and eventually ground, all international flights. In early April, Pacific island leaders invoked a regional mechanism, the Biketawa Declaration, establishing a humanitarian process for the nations to collectively respond to the pandemic. COVID-19, measles, and dengue fever are not the only risks the Pacific islands face. These island nations collectively emit less than one percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, yet they disproportionately experience the impacts of the climate crisis. There are 20 sovereign island nations in the Pacific, with between 20,000-30,000 islands covering more than 16 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. The region possesses one of the world’s richest biodiversities and unique cultures, with more than 1,500 Indigenous spoken languages. Papua New Guinea alone is home to well over 800 Indigenous languages, more than most other countries in the world. The remoteness of this constellation of islands within the southern hemisphere puts the region at a distinct advantage over COVID-19. However, relatively small land masses with growing populations heighten the region’s susceptibility to the multiplicative effects of the measles and dengue fever epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the brutal impacts of climate change.
Limited infrastructure, sensitive ecosystems, increased land degradation, and a reliance on natural resources for economic livelihoods put the island nations at further risk. Rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, and intensifying natural disasters present serious concerns for many communities, particularly those experiencing economic and social hardships. Subsistence farmers and fisherfolk, rural villagers with limited access to resources, women, children, and people with disabilities are at risk during times of uncertainty. “These already stressful situations, combined with the onslaught of a severe natural disaster, will no doubt create another layer of injustice for already marginalized groups within our society,” said Fenton Lutunatabua, regional managing director for 350.org, a local advisor to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). “It’s important to remember now that we need to continue to put people’s health and well being first and foremost, especially in how we recover from this to create stronger communities and build solidarity across borders.” In the midst of the pandemic, Tropical Cyclone Harold, a Category 5 storm, descended on the region, uprooting vegetation, homes, and communities. Left to live in debris, survivors were deprived of food and clean water. Like other natural disasters, people congregated in evacuation centers and communal shelters for safety, a decision weighed successfully against social distancing recommendations. According to reports, about 30 lives were lost. COVID-19 measures implemented to halt the spread of the virus, such as restricting ferry transport between islands, the grounding of international flights, and the dismissal of foreign aid workers, made the supply and provision of relief and recovery aid challenging, leaving affected communities in dire situations. In the past five years, the Pacific has experienced two other deadly Category 5 cyclones: Cyclone Pam in 2015 and Cyclone Winston in 2016. Cyclone Winston is the strongest cyclone on record to make landfall in the southern hemisphere. This narrative reflects a fraction of the issues the UUSC’s partners face at the grassroots level, where various ongoing risks and historical traumas intersect and are acutely felt. In Tuvalu, the Tuvalu Climate Action Network (TuCAN), consisting of grassroots community leaders, are working to engage communities throughout its eight islands about the inevitable risks of displacement and the sensitive decision of whether or not to migrate. This work is being done as sea level rise continues to flood homes and deplete limited resources. Within their respective communities, our partners work diligently to protect their cultural practices and traditions,
harnessing their values to adapt in place. In the Marshall Islands, the Marshall Islands Conservation Society provides community leaders with scientific tools to inform decisions around relocation and policy advocacy, while also battling food and water scarcity, flooding, and the impacts of nuclear testing. In Fiji, where 63 communities have been identified by the government as needing to relocate due to climate change impacts, our partner, Social Empowerment Education Programme (SEEP), is organizing several of these communities to support the creation of relocation policies while also raising awareness about COVID-19 in rural areas. Recognizing, respecting, and promoting traditional and cultural rights is threaded throughout all of this work. The confluence of these crises is undeniably disastrous. However, I have witnessed the resolve of our partners and the Pacific community to chart their own path, act, and adapt. They exude courage and strength and remind me that they are steadfast and will continue their important work. The resourcefulness and adaptability of our partners in the Pacific is what makes our partners unique and truly inspiring. They represent and serve the communities who have fought and continue to fight threats to their survival. The issues they face may vary, but they share one story and the critical mandate of honoring our shared humanity and human dignities, particularly during this difficult time. My infant son accompanied me on my trip to Fiji. It was his maiden trip home, a journey connecting his body and spirit with his ancestral lands. My mother wrapped my son with masi, a traditional cloth, and laid him on an arrangement of ancestral mats to welcome him home. This profound cultural practice, unique to the region, is not only a demonstration of unwavering love, but a radical act of resistance and survival as the Pacific recovers her people and land. —Salote Soqo is senior partnership officer for Climate Justice and Crisis Response for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. She is a native of Fiji. This article was written in collaboration with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee as part of a series highlighting the resilience, wisdom, and power of Indigenous communities as they face the climate crisis. To read One Story: A Report of the First Peoples Convening on Climate-Forced Displacement, visit: tinyurl.com/ydyq5jtw.
Damages sustained by Narikoso Village, Kadavu, in Fiji. Photo by Kelepi Saukitoga.
Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 7
ri ght s i n a ctio n
Indigenous Peoples to Share in Tea Industry Profits Dried rooibos tea. Photo by Selena N. B. H.
Cecil le Fleur, chairperson of the National Khoi and San Council, who was involved in the campaign for rooibos profit sharing with Khoi and San Peoples. A brewed cup of rooibos tea.
Photo by Cliff.
Shaldon Farris (CS Staff)
n South Africa in November 2019, a historic benefit sharing agreement was reached with the Indigenous Peoples of South Africa and the tea industry: the Khoi and San people will now benefit from the multimillion rand rooibos tea and honeybush industries. An annual levy on all sales will now go into trust accounts set up by Khoi and San Peoples, which will net a profit approximately 12 million rand, or just under $1 million per year. At the launch of the agreement, the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister stated, “Such international recognition cannot exist without appreciating the contribution of Indigenous knowledge to the use of rooibos and honeybush. That is why it is important that the parties to the Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Industry-Wide Benefit Sharing Agreement salute the role of San and Khoi traditional knowledge, without which the variety of medicines and other products made from this plant by the rooibos industry would not have happened.” This pilot agreement is an important, but small, step in compensating the traditional knowledge holders, but is it enough? Only two percent of rooibos farmers are from Indigenous communities. How long will it take for Khoi and San farmers to increase their share in what had been rightfully theirs for thousands of years? Cultural Survival recently spoke with
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Cultural Survival: How has rooibos been used traditionally? Cecil le Fleur: The Khoi and San people were the very first
people to become aware of the qualities of this unique plant. They did not use the plant only as an herb or as a beverage, but they also used the plant for different medicinal purposes. Our elders tell us when they were children, their mothers used rooibos tea as a substitute for breast milk. The Khoi and San people and rooibos are really connected to each other over many years; it became part of their DNA.
CS: Give us some historical context for the Khoi and San people as it pertains to the rooibos industry in South Africa. ClF: The Khoisan Council was established by the late South
African president Nelson Mandela about 20 years ago. This Council deals with all the issues pertaining to Khoi and San people and acts as a link between these communities and the South African government. The Khoi and San people took the lead in the negotiation process on rooibos, being responsible not only for Indigenous knowledge, but also cultural practices, land affairs, and heritage sites. There is a lot of other tangible heritage in South Africa that stands to testify that the Khoi and San people are part and parcel of South Africa. Up until now, even after this landmark achievement of the recognition of the Khoi and San People’s Indigenous knowledge to rooibos, the Khoi and San are not officially recognized in South Africa. They are not part of the South African government; they have no statutory position in South Africa.
We want to send a strong message to the world and to the rest of South Africa that they must know that these people are not recognized formally in the country where they have been the very first inhabitants, and that our struggles are still continuing to persuade our government to recognize us so that our land rights and our cultural rights can also be formally recognized. This Rooibos legislation implies the protection of traditional knowledge of communities pertaining to certain plant species. We, of the National Khoisan Council, together with the South African San Council, embarked on this journey to fight for the recognition of the knowledge of Khoi and San people, supported by the Convention on Biological Diversity.
farm on the land of the church and in some other places. They have very small pieces of land that they can use communally for the cultivation of rooibos tea. That’s a huge challenge for us. CS: How can this historic win be leveraged by Indigenous Peoples in South Africa? ClF: We want the government to make
use of this historic recognition of the Indigenous Peoples of South Africa, of South African Indigenous knowledge, to improve the conditions of our people. They have been in this rooibos industry for generations. They love this plant, they cherish this plant, and they continue Cecil le Fleur. Photo by Shaldon Ferris. to use the plant over generations. Why not use this opportunity to reform CS: Please tell us about the process to negotiate the agricultural landscape in South Africa? The government price and value. intends to embark on a new redistribution of land in South ClF: There’s a whole value chain and you have to determine Africa. Here is an example they can use to show to South where in that value chain we will pick the royalties. When we Africa and to the world that they now empower these comstarted to negotiate the percentage it was a very complicated munities by giving them land and allowing them to become process because we did not know how much money we could commercial farmers so that they can compete with the borrow from the rooibos industry, and we were skeptical white farmers in the industry and become part of the about the figures that we got from the industry. We invited whole rooibos value chain. economists that were in the Department of Environmental We are serious about reforming not only certain parts of Affairs, we even brought in mediators to help mediate between the community land interests, but also Khoi and San Peoples’ the negotiating parties. In the end we all agreed that we should position in terms of land ownership in South Africa. The nail down the percentage at 1.5 percent of the gate price Khoi and San people were the first inhabitants of this country, (market value minus the selling costs). Unfortunately, there’s the first land owners of this country, and were the first to be an exchange rate now in terms of land. It may fall between dispossessed of their land. Here is an opportunity for South 10 million and 20 million rand. That’s a huge gap, but there Africa to set an example and to show to the world that they are a lot of sectors that come into play. At the moment we are starting to address Khoi and San Indigenous Peoples’ estimate that we could get between 12-15 million rand in land problems. the coming year. CS: How will money be divided among the producers? ClF:That 12 to 15 million will be equally divided between
Khoi Khoi and San people. We made a decision that we will advise and propose to the different communities that these benefits will go to communities and not to certain traditional leaders. It’s not that we will not engage with traditional leaders, but the point we want to make here is that it must be to the advantage of the entire community. The second point is that we want to encourage the communities not to demand payments in cash. We want to encourage them to submit business plans for projects that they will identify in the communities. Those should be projects that focus on the development of that community and they must be sustainable, accessible to all members of that community, and take into consideration the generations to come. It must be something that will benefit and uplift the community. We also want to negotiate with our government, and more specifically the departments of Legal Development and Land Affairs, as well as the Department of Agriculture. We want to make them aware of the fact that this groundbreaking agreement has been signed between the Khoi and San people and the industry. Rooibos farmers operate on small farms; they
Rights to Cultural and Intellectual Property Several articles in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples deal with the rights to traditional knowledge. Article 31.1 states: “Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.”
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Alaska Native Birthworkers Community founders enjoying a winter day in Anchorage. (L-R): Charlene Apok, Olga Lucason, Stacey Lucason, Abra Patkotak, Helena Jacobs, Tala David, Margaret David. Photo by EJ David.
A Return to Traditional Birthing Practices and Maternal Care
Margaret David pregnant with Tala David getting an herbal foot bath at a blessing ceremony to prepare for her home birth. Photo by Rhonda Grantham.
ounded three years ago, the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community is a small, grassroots, volunteerbased organization in Anchorage, Alaska, whose members call themselves “midwives, healers, mothers, customer-owners of our Tribal health care system, community/social justice activists, artists, doctoral students, researchers, sisters and aunties.” Together, they represent more than a handful of Tribal Nations within Athabascan, Iñupiaq, Yup’ik, and Siberian Yupik cultures. Margaret David (Koyukon Athabascan), Helena Jacobs (Koyukon Athabascan), Abra Patkotak (Iñupiaq), Charlene Apok (Iñupiaq), Stacey Lucason (Yup’ik), and Stefanie Cromarty (St. Lawrence Island
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Yupik) are the founders and lead volunteers behind the initiative. In the words of Jacobs, the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community is made of “Native women who offer care to pregnant people, including other Native women, in the same way we have cared for one another for millennia. We are seeking to reclaim our ancestral knowledge, as well as learn new knowledge to grow the capacity of our local caregivers to call back these roles.” Alaska Native Birthworkers Community’s vision is that “every Alaska Native birthing person feels supported, well cared for, and full of the information they need to make confident choices around reproductive health, birthing, and parenthood... to reclaim as well as create new ceremony and heal our ancestors and future generations who may have been harmed through the colonization of our bodies, healthcare, and birthing practices.” The Community’s approach to perinatal support focuses not only on the medical aspects of giving birth and being a parent, but also on Indigenous cultures and the reclaiming of Indigenous bodies. “Birth itself is considered a ceremony,” Jacobs says, “and the specific ways each of us practice holding this ceremonial space differs greatly.” The Community provides on-call volunteer service for women at all stages of reproductive life: women just coming of age can be tattooed in an empowerment ceremony, women considering pregnancy can receive peer counseling, women who are pregnant receive support while birthing, and women who have given birth receive postpartum care. The Community is available to help women with their mental health and family wellness, in addition to collecting and redistributing donated newborn items, pregnancy care packages, and food bundles. The impacts that pregnancy and early childhood have on both mother and child cannot be overstated. The Community believes that pregnancy is an opportune time to work with families “because a pregnant person is especially motivated and open to healing and to positive health changes for the benefit of their child.” Formalizing a network of Alaska Native birthworkers who value the role that Indigenous culture plays in pre-and post-natal health is critical. In the words of the Community, “our young women want aunties to guide them through their transition into womanhood, our mothers want support to navigate pregnancy and childbirth, our sisters want
someone to sit beside them while learning to care for a newborn and grow their families. For millennia our social and community structures demanded ceremonial rites of passage, that a new mother be cared for by everyone surrounding her, and that care was offered locally by women whose wisdom and medicine passed on from generation to generation.” However, this kind of birthing environment for Alaska Native parents is no longer the norm, making the work of the Community essential. Most rural Alaska Native mothers are displaced from their homelands and required to travel by plane, often separated from their families and wider communities when giving birth. The Community points to numerous clinical studies which have shown that “the continuous support of a professionally trained labor companion at birth results in shorter labors with fewer complications, increased satisfaction with the birth experience, reduced need for medical interventions, including a significant decrease in requests for pain medications . . . [and] that parents who receive this type of perinatal support feel more secure and cared for, are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics, have greater success with breastfeeding, have greater self-confidence, have less postpartum depression, and have lower incidence of abuse.” Jacobs’ own experience demonstrates the importance of community support while giving birth. “I had excellent care during all three of my pregnancies and had really positive, empowering, beautiful birth experiences,” she recalls. “I felt safe, well cared for and full of the information I needed to make informed choices about my care. The more I got into this work, the more I realized that I was very privileged to have these experiences, and that is a primary motivator for my dedication to this work.” Later, when attending a birth, Jacobs describes meeting the mother-to-be for the first time while she was in labor at the hospital. “Before arriving I felt really nervous about how I might offer care and be able to support her. As soon as I arrived, we immediately connected and I was able to be present for her in the way she needed by following her cues. She was so grateful to me for being there for her and I was so grateful to her for inviting me into that sacred space and honoring me with the gift of witnessing her birth and being one of the first people to meet her baby. This
Food bags restocked by the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community ready for distribution to pregnant families receiving care through the Alaska Native Medical Center, in support of the efforts of individuals in the OB clinic who have been distributing food for decades. Photo by Margaret David.
solidified how important peer care is and how the bond of sisterhood can be formed instantly in these moments.” Most health care professionals who work in the Tribal health system are not Alaska Native, and therefore are unable to provide culturally-matched care and ceremony that reflects ancestral knowledge and cultural values during pregnancy and birth. While attempting to fill the gap and provide Alaska Native women with the support they need and deserve, the Community calls on all Tribal health facilities to hire Indigenous birthworkers (midwives, doulas, peer lactation counselors, etc.) and offer additional birth support to parents through doula and other peer support programs. In 2017, the Community hosted the Indigenous Midwifery Ancestral Knowledge Keeper Gathering, where women from the United States and Canada hosted different parts of the agenda. The event focused not only on birth helper skills, but also on ancestral knowledge and Indigenous tradition. Agenda topics included birth helper basic knowledge and skill building (reproductive physiology, preconception health, support during pregnancy, labor, and birth); reclamation of birth ceremonies; and the revitalizing efforts of women’s coming of age ceremonies and rites of passages that work to assist in rebuilding lifeways and healing our nations, storytelling, breastfeeding support, ancestral knowledge, and plant medicine making. This fall, the Community plans to host two more trainings: Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor Training and Full Spectrum Indigenous Doula Training. In addition, the Community continues to evaluate the needs of the Alaska Native community by surveying healthcare systems statewide to better understand what care and resources are being provided locally to Alaska Native women. This data will help guide the Community in fulfilling its vision and purpose of bringing the Indigenous experience back to birthing. Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 11
Voice, Choice, and Power Healing Intergenerational Trauma with Dr. Ruby Gibson
Photo by Jinji Thompson.
r. Ruby Gibson (Lakota, Ojibway, Mestiza), cofounder and executive director of Freedom Lodge, a nonprofit organization in Rapid City, South Dakota that provides historical and intergenerational trauma healing to Native American communities, shares her work on Somatic Archaeology© and its healing potential. She is the author of My Body, My Earth: The Practice of Somatic Archaeology.
the process. Our biological and neurophysiological engagement allows us to start at the source and make our way to interpretation, as opposed to a westernized psychotherapeutic model that starts with analysis and then attempts to enforce what we believe on the body. We give the body a voice. Our primary model is “Voice, Choice, and Power.” Helping someone reclaim their power by giving their body a voice helps clients recognize they have choice.
Cultural Survival: What is Somatic Archaeology© and how can it improve the health of Indigenous Peoples through healing? Ruby Gibson: Somatic Archaeology© is a recovery modality
CS: How has intergenerational trauma in Native communities affected health and well being? RG: When we map our influences and look 7 generations
focused on the potential to excavate history in our body through body sensation, breathwork, and balancing the four worlds. We are a walking library and our body, much like the Earth, is full of information. In Somatic Archaeology© we say we’re digging within, excavating the source of our ailments. The five steps of Somatic Archaeology© are: I Notice; I Sense; I Feel; I Interpret; I Reconcile. We begin with noticing and follow body sensation through a bottom-up neurophysiological process until we reach step five, identifying the cause and effect of our symptoms—we call that reconciliation. Reconciliation reflects who am I when I’m free, or who am I when I’m liberated to live my life like I want, when I’m not carrying emotional burdens. That’s when transformation or healing happens. I have observed that the body follows the same five steps regardless of the elements or story one is carrying. Stories are typically based on the epigenetic memory patterns of our mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and parents. In Lakota traditional ways, we generally use a medicine wheel as a way of understanding life and mapping out our experiences. If I can take a method and put it on the medicine wheel and it holds water, then I know it works, there is medicine to it. In our communities, we have 500-plus years of colonization, suffering, death, ethnocide, and disease to process, but when you use Somatic Archaeology©, it simplifies 12 • www. cs. org
behind us and 7 generations ahead of us, we find that we’re at the apex of 14 generations. If we choose, we can influence our actions and how our behaviors are going to affect the next seven generations. This position gives us a lot of power because our choices can impact our ancestors and lighten the load for our offspring. When you remain conscious about that, what you’re taking in, what you’re managing, and how you’re transforming it, you can utilize Somatic Archaeology© to transform your story—and then you actually become part of the solution in the human world and in all the four worlds (plant, mineral, animal, and human). We utilize the power from each of those four directions of life in order to put ourselves in the center of the circle. We become a point of transformation, and when we make that choice, there are so many possibilities—and life opens up in new ways. CS: You have also coined the phrase, The Future of Native Wellness.™ What does that mean? RG: I’ve spent a good portion of my life doing trauma recov-
ery work, and sometimes it gets overwhelming and can be soul crushing. I reached a point of compassion fatigue, which I think is a crisis that every healer goes through at some point in their profession. I decided then that wellness was really the key. Black Elk, one of our Lakota elders who has crossed over, had a prophecy: “After seven generations pass, it’s the fulfillment All photos by Joshua Cooper.
of the prophecy and there’s a new prophecy.” It’s been seven generations, so what’s next? Wellness is really an extension of the eighth generation. People need hope, and they need to be able to find their way out of the cultural identity that associates us with suffering. Unless we change our perspective, we stay in this state of mind that has been carved out by nonIndigenous cultures. It’s time to get our power back. When we start looking at it from a place of power rather than a place of loss, that’s when we shift our focus to The Future of Native Wellness™.
incubated in our maternal grandmother’s womb. If you were a seed in your mother’s womb when she was in her mother, then your daughter’s life began there also. We look at four generations of epigenetic inheritance through this model. This is how we remember how to protect ourselves, how we pass along knowledge, how we help to carry stories about who we are and our own traditions, and also the dangers that exist for us.
CS: Tell us about the Freedom Lodge and the work it does. RG: Freedom Lodge was originally co-founded by me and
spiritual foundation of who we are. The second is language— being able to hear your ancestors and speak in your language allows the ancestors to make contact and defines the culture. Lakota is a present tense language. It’s about what’s happening now, not what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. It’s very central to the moment. Traditional artwork, star blankets, bead work, all these components of a very rich culture and being able to reclaim those symbols and find beauty in traditions is part of wellness. If we are suffering so much that we end up drinking or getting high, we get distracted and forget who we are. Then those traditional things get lost. Many factors lead to wellness and physical health, but comfort in your body is number one. The feeling of belonging to your culture and to your community, feeling like you have worth, that you hold an important place in family, all helps you feel connected. You can’t go back to the way you were, but you can replenish and remember. Your body has an amazing ability to not only recall traumatic events, but to recall positive events and historical knowledge that is layered inside of you. I learned an important moral through a dream—to always let the grandmothers drive. It was the most significant dream in my life because it helped me recognize that I wasn’t in charge. I also recognized a higher feminine power and I refer to them as the grandmothers. They guide my work and keep me humble. They keep bringing me gifts, they speak to me and tell me which way to go. I never travel alone and they’ve been at the core of the development of Somatic Archaeology©. This is an important part of my Wellness.
a colleague of mine, Tulley Spotted Eagle Boy, a Canadian MicMac elder, after the government of Canada apologized to Indigenous Peoples. With government funding, Tulley established the Mother Earth Lodge and asked me to create a sister lodge in the United States, so I created Freedom Lodge. I started working with our youth, teaching Somatic Archaeology© to other therapists, and soon Freedom Lodge became an educational center. Five years ago I applied for a job with a nonprofit foundation as a program coordinator. The job was to positively impact Indigenous women and girls from Alaska to Mexico. They did not hire me for the position, but instead decided to fund me. This funding allowed Freedom Lodge to take Somatic Archaeology© out into the communities to support professional counselors and therapists. We provide our services free of charge to Tribal members. We’ve also developed the Historical Trauma Master Class™, and in each class we train about 30 professional counselors and therapists from various Tribes and teach Somatic Archaeology©. Graduates of this program who want to become trainers are taught to go out into their communities and start training people. CS: What is your Healing the Sacred Womb Project? RG: We have a high suicide rate amongst our youth, and I’ve
spent time in many K-12 Tribal schools helping with suicide prevention. Suicide prevention often entails addressing the issue of sexual abuse. Many children were sexually assaulted in the boarding schools during the 1950’s-’70s and their children inherited the toxic imprints of the traumas. These schools were government funded and run by the churches with a specific goal of “killing the Indian in the child.” Murdered and missing Indigenous women are part of this legacy. Feeling like you don’t have value, or feeling that you only have value sexually, you begin to minimize your own life and your purpose. It’s one of the worst woundings for a child. We believe there’s a sacred law that says “no harm may come to the children.” Traditionally and historically, sexual abuse was never a problem in Native culture until European influence and invasion. The Sacred Womb Project helps mothers and grandmothers to recover their own sacredness and innocence in their body, and consequently impacts their children and grandchildren. We work with shame; we work with honoring our bodies. We look at it this way: a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have. Imagine you were an egg in your mother’s womb when she was in her mother’s womb. Our grandmother’s womb becomes our first experience of biological life. We’re all
CS: What does the future of Indigenous health look like in your community? RG: One component is ceremonial life, because it’s at the
CS: Can these models be adapted to Indigenous communities around the world? RG: That’s the dream. I’m a cultural healer. For me, healing
trauma is fairly simple. It takes time, commitment, and courage to be willing to remember. What are we able to remember? A woman in one of my trainings had a visual impairment and had been unable to resolve it. After one session, that impairment went away and never came back. It’s because her body was willing and she trusted me. By being able to train a handful of people in a community to do individual work, people start feeling themselves transform in many ways. It changes the culture and the community. My heart beats strong with the thought of bringing our healing techniques into every Indigenous community in the world. It is financially viable, it’s fairly simple, and individuals can do the steps on their own. There is so much potential. When we take this work out into the world, it can reach every single person who it’s meant to reach. And that is in the hands of the grandmothers. Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 13
Combatting Suicide Amongst An Interview Indigenous Peoples with Pat Dudgeon
Pat Dudgeon speaks at the 2nd World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference. Photo courtesy of Pat Dudgeon.
n 2018 and 2019, there was a continual increase in suicides amongst Indigenous Peoples, specifically in Australia. Why is this happening at such an alarming rate? What is the cause of these deaths, especially among the youth? Globally, suicide is the second highest contributor to adolescent deaths. Studies from high-income countries including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and Arctic nations consistently find elevated suicide rates among Indigenous populations, with substantial rate disparities compared to non-Indigenous populations. According to the World Health Organization, low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries have similar annual standardized suicide rates. However, low- and middle-income countries account for 75 percent of suicide deaths worldwide, and there is often a disproportionate burden amongst specific subgroups within countries, such as Indigenous Peoples. In Canada, the highest suicide rates have been reported among First Nations Peoples. According to Canada’s Centre for Suicide Prevention, suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youths and adults up to age 44. The suicide rate for First Nations male youths ages 15-24 is 126 per 100,000, compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous male youth. For First Nations females, the suicide rate is 35 per 100,000 compared to 5 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous females. Suicide rates for Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders between the ages of 15-24 are almost 4 times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people in the same age bracket.
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The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that suicide is the leading cause of death for Indigenous children ages 5-17. From 2014–2018, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for close to 25 percent of all child suicide deaths. To better understand the issue of suicide among Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio Producer, Shaldon Ferris (KhoiSan), recently spoke to Pat Dudgeon (Bardi), director of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander on Suicide Prevention at the University of Western Australia (UWA). She is a psychologist, professor, Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, and Poche Research Fellow at the School of Indigenous Studies at UWA in Perth. Cultural Survival: Is the spike in the Indigenous suicide rate a recent trend, or has it been on the rise for some time? Pat Dudgeon: Indigenous suicides have always been a big
issue. It’s probably gained a lot more national media attention in recent times, but it has been a growing concern in the last 40 years. Our Indigenous suicide rate is twice that of the general population, so it’s become a big, big issue. CS: What are some of the leading reasons for Indigenous suicides? PD: For any suicide there is a whole matrix of different issues
and problems. We believe that it’s the history of colonization that Indigenous people have lived through. The country was taken over, there was genocide, people were removed from their countries and moved into missions and reserves. We
went through a period we call the Stolen Generations, where people were forcibly taken from their families and put into institutions. In contemporary times, as well as having intergenerational trauma that’s been passed down, there are a whole lot of social determinants that impact Indigenous people. We have higher rates of poverty and incarceration, and racism is ongoing, so those are factors that contribute to suicide and bad mental health. It’s not a simple or clear answer. There’s a lot of grief and loss in the community, substance abuse issues, sexual abuse, and so on, but for Indigenous people, having that history of colonization and ongoing racism is certainly a big part of the story. CS: Is a loss of identity due to the impacts of colonialism a factor? PD: Absolutely. We’ve gone out and done workshops and
roundtables with community people, and we’ve done empowerment programs. What amazes me is how people implicitly know that what the mainstream has done—what the State has done to them—is wrong. They’ve seen their mothers and grandmothers subject to racist acts and treatments. To have it explicitly taught to them, to say, ‘yes, this legislation happened and this was the impact,’ validates their experience, and people are very conscious to hold on and to strengthen their cultural identity. I think we’re in a process of remaking and restrengthening our cultural identity. Lucky for us, colonization has been a relatively short history compared to other countries. It could’ve been much more damaging. With Stolen Generations, some of those people were moved far away from home, and we have had some big initiatives called Bringing Them Home, which were about helping people come back to rediscover who their family or language group were, and to reconnect. Archie Roach (a local Indigenous singer) has written about the children coming home. That’s important for us, to ensure that we strengthen our identity and people build faith so they know who they are and their role in the future. CS: Are there patterns of similar occurrences happening in other Indigenous communities around the world? PD: Yes, it’s a very similar story. In November 2018, we held
the second World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference. We ran it in a certain way where we privileged Indigenous presence and voices. When we formed our committees to plan the conference, we ensured there were youth representatives on there, elders, members of our LGBTQIA+ groups. Having the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference was very important because we had people from Canada, New Zealand, the U.S., and so on, present. We looked at the global Indigenous suicide rates; they are very similar, it’s a similar story. So I think all Indigenous societies are in a greater or lesser state of recovery from colonization, and one of the markers is a very high suicide rate, much higher than the rest of the population. That was important to us, to come together as world Indigenous people and to share our stories and to share what the solutions could be. We are seeing a global movement happening, and that’s very important. I think we join up with our Indigenous brothers and sisters from other countries to talk, to learn from each other, and to share our knowledge and go forward. And, while we claim the right to have
leadership in the discussion, there are certainly great nonIndigenous supporters and governments that support us as well. CS: Do you think we should be talking to our respective governments about solutions, or should this issue be solved by us as Indigenous Peoples? PD: Definitely from the people. The State has a very impor-
tant role, and that is to give the resources to the people. It’s very important to ensure that resources are sent into the community. Our position is for Aboriginal people themselves. Unless they’re in charge of identifying the problem, the issues, and then implementing the solutions, we’re going to have very limited effective suicide prevention or any kind of programs. We know that culture, self- determination, and cultural reclamation is important. Both were assumptions on the work done by Professor Michael J. Chandler in Canada, where they did some research with First Nations people and showed that communities with little self-determination and little cultural reclamation had higher suicide rates. We also used the work of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development in the United States, where they’ve shown that Indigenous communities that are much happier and have higher health rates are ones that are also exercising their self-determination. That’s very important for any group of human beings: they need to be there at the table, making decisions, being part of deciding what happens, how, when, and where.
CS: Is enough being done to reduce the Indigenous suicide rate? Do you think there’s hope? PD: I’m optimistic. I think Australia is alarmed at what’s
happening in its country. I think the government does want change to happen. I think the communities themselves want change to happen, because we had an elders group at our World Indigenous Suicide Prevention conference who were very vocal in what they wanted. They wanted a royal commission to look at the issue, and they were very vocal in what they thought the government should do. I think that all supporters of our society, whether it’s governments, whether it’s people on the ground, certainly the communities themselves, they want accountability and they want to be part of the discussion. So, I think things will change. I don’t think it’ll be an overnight solution, because it’s taken us years to get to this point. For some sections it might take time to turn this around, but it will be turned around. CS: What message can we give the Indigenous person who is in a remote area somewhere, contemplating suicide? PD: Firstly, don’t do it. Do not do it. Things will get better, but
go and get help. It would be great if we could have a telephone crisis center that’s culturally appropriate and knows our values and our issues and can give immediate help. Counselors too, they need to be trained to be more culturally knowledgeable. But there will be people in your family and in your community who can help. In every family and every community there is usually one strong person, or more, who will help the others. We need to nurture those people. They’re the people we go to, and we’ve all got one or two in our lives, so go to those people, talk to them, get help from them.
Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 15
Kasiyanna Turning to Indigenous Knowledge During the COVID-19 Pandemic Minnie Degawan
ndigenous Peoples are no strangers to disease and disaster. Now, four months into the worldwide crisis brought about by COVID-19, the situation of Indigenous Peoples is starting to come to light: Indigenous Peoples are facing particularly challenging times due to the susceptibility of their communities to infectious diseases and their limited—or lack of—access to information, among other factors. Some of these realities are the consequence of poor planning by national governments, and others are the result of discrimination and disregard for Indigenous Peoples. The impacts of the many exploitative projects in Indigenous territories, such as mining and monocrop plantations, are an added threat and challenge. All of these contribute to the further marginalization and greater risk Indigenous Peoples face, especially in times of crises. Through generations, Indigenous Peoples have established responses and coping mechanisms grounded in traditional knowledge, customs, and practices to different circumstances affecting their communities. These are all founded on one fundamental principle: to ensure that the community survives. A common response across Indigenous communities is that
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of closing off the community to all—this means no one can enter the community until it is deemed safe. Such community closures are done for different reasons. In the Cordillera, Philippines, for example, this practice is regularly observed during the agricultural cycle. Before or after the fields are ready for planting and harvesting, the community declares ubaya/tengaw, which basically means everyone stays at home; no hard labor is to be done by anyone. This is a time for the community and the earth to rest, and typically lasts a day or two. The ubaya/tengaw is also declared in times of epidemics or other disasters. Rituals to shut off the community from outsiders, including bad spirits, are performed by elders, directed at expelling whatever harm is in the community. The ubaya/tengaw is meant not just to protect the community, but also outsiders who might want to visit. The signs that a community is in ubaya— a knotted piece of a branch or leaf is placed at the entrance of the community—is a very simple, yet powerful, deterrent. During extended community lockdowns, traditional community practices come into effect, such as the binnadang/ub-ubbo (loosely translated as exchange labor), where community members look out for those in need and extend help. Food is shared by those who have more with
those who have less. In addition, the basic principle of ayyew, meaning not to waste anything, is constantly practiced and enforced. Food, such as dried sweet potatoes that have been preserved for the rainy period, is brought out and portioned to last for the period of ubaya. It is during the period of ubaya that one often hears the term kasiyanna, meaning “all will be well.” It is an affirmation that balance will soon be achieved. To the community, problems are reflections of imbalance in the world, whether between neighbors or with the natural or spiritual world, and to resolve it is to restore balance. When this global pandemic came about, Indigenous communities did not find the idea of quarantine unfamiliar. When the Philippine national government imposed quarantine measures across the country, several Indigenous communities further strengthened this by declaring ubaya/tungaw in their respective communities. The declaration of ubaya/ tengaw meant that these communities were closing their borders to everyone, including members who were in the cities at that time. It was a difficult decision, but one that had to be made to avoid proliferation of the virus. Such mechanisms are also practiced by the Karen and other groups in Thailand, as well as by Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia. In different parts of Asia, such as Malaysia, the Orang Asli have decided to return to the forest as their defense against the pandemic. The forest has always been their home and their source for medicines, so it is a logical response for them to return to it during times of danger. This is also true for other Indigenous Peoples, such as those living in the Amazon. While on lockdown, the communities took stock of the situation to assess who from the community was still outside, where they were, whether they were planning to come back, and if so, what could be done for them. If there are people who are sick in the community, what is needed? Is there enough food for all, and for how long? These questions, and subsequently answers, were then used by the community to plan better for the days, weeks, or months ahead. Some communities decided to forgo the food packs distributed by the government in favor of those in urban areas, specifically those in poverty, as they could be facing greater challenges in obtaining food. Unfortunately, these traditional practices of coping with pandemics and other disasters is proving to be particularly challenging for Indigenous Peoples given the current threats they face from the extractive industry and climate change, among others. The conversion of forests to monocrop plantations or to logging and mining concessions means less agricultural land for communities. In addition, the introduction of fast growing, input-dependent, genetically modified species has compromised the productivity of the community lands. Climate change, too, has impacted the agricultural cycle and yield. The result of these occurrences is that communities now have less food stocked, making them vulnerable to hunger if the quarantine period lasts longer than anticipated. The destruction of their surroundings brought about by the extractive industry also add to these challenges. Mining and logging have caused water sources to dry up, as well as contamination of traditional water sources. Even the designation of forests as protected areas is a cause of concern. In the instance of the Orang Asli, their return to the forests has caused some wildlife protection groups to demand stronger
Through generations, Indigenous Peoples have established responses and coping mechanisms grounded in traditional knowledge, customs, and practices to different circumstances affecting their communities. These are all founded on one fundamental principle: to ensure that the community survives. protection for endangered animal species as hunting could increase. But these concerns are misplaced. The Orang Asli, and other Indigenous Peoples, follow very strict rules governing hunting for food, among which is the caution of never taking more than what one needs, as well as looking out for animals that are very young or pregnant. There are also calls from some groups for stronger implementation of protected area rules, including keeping people out of the forests. This is ironic given that extractive industries are being allowed to continue their operations despite community lockdowns, such as in Ecuador, where oil companies still traverse Indigenous communities to arrive at their operations. In countries where the national government has taken on a more militaristic response, Indigenous Peoples are especially vulnerable. Some of the national policies are unclear and not readily communicated to communities. And if or when a policy is disobeyed, even inadvertently, a drastic measure of either arrest or death (in the case of violations of curfew times) is taken. For Indigenous Peoples, orders to stay home and wait for the relief promised by governments is just not an option, as they are accustomed to fending for and relying on themselves. This global health crisis has proven and reinforced the need to respect and promote Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and that they must be at the center of the discussion. If Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their lands and resources were respected, they would be better able to fend for themselves in times of crisis and would not have to look to the outside for help. If traditional resource use and management practices were respected and strengthened, there would be less destruction of nature, and perhaps less possibility for diseases to develop. These are among the greatest lessons from this global health pandemic, and it is our hope that the policy makers will do what is needed to ensure that these rights are not forgotten. When this crisis ends, there will be a rush to “help” Indigenous communities. It will be prudent to ensure that any intervention must have Indigenous Peoples at the center in terms of their agency and rights. Policies will need to be adjusted to reflect the situation and needs of the communities. It will also be useful to harness the knowledge and skills of the youth, who have access to information to communicate the community’s needs to the outside world. The communities know best what they will need and how such support should be delivered. It will be, as the elders say, kasiyanna. — Minnie Degawan (Kankanaey-Igorot) is an activist for Indigenous Peoples’ rights from the Cordillera, Philippines. She is the director of Conservation International’s Indigenous & Traditional Peoples Program (ITPP). Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 17
Decolonizing Fasting to Improve Indigenous Wellness
Fasting is one of the most ancient and widespread healing traditions in the world. Photo by iStockphoto/Sharaf Maksumov.
Michael Yellow Bird
asting is part of human evolution. For millions of years, the eating patterns of our ancestors evolved during times of famine and plenty, with climate playing a major role in what foods were available. Later on, political circumstances brought about by colonization created major disruptions in food security and patterns of eating. Before the advent of agriculture nearly 12,000 years ago, wild plants, fruits, grasses, seeds, nuts, fish, and animals were the nutritional pillars of the human diet. What was available depended largely upon the time of year, location, and the energy needed to hunt and gather the foods. When food was scarce, humans would often go without eating or eat sparingly for days, weeks, and sometimes months. Food availability was hit and miss. To prevent starvation, many cultures intentionally abstained from eating too much, rationing their intake of food and practicing what Western science now calls “calorie restriction” —only eating when they were truly hungry. Going without played an important part in the lifestyle, health, and culture of our ancestors. In 2013, I interviewed my then-86-year-old mother about her diet as a child and young woman. Two things that stood out were that she and her siblings had only one serving of food at each meal, which she said was plenty, and that the menu was generally plant-based, with meat as a side dish. Food insecurity was a normal part of life for many of our ancestors. In 1636, a Jesuit missionary named Paul Lejune, who was living among the Montaignais Indian hunter gatherers of Canada, witnessed this for himself: “I saw them in their hardships and labor suffer with cheerfulness. I found myself with them threatened with great suffering. They said to me, ‘We shall be sometimes two days, sometimes three without eating for lack of food. Take courage, Chihine, let thy soul be strong to endure suffering and hardship. Keep thyself from being sad otherwise thou wilt be sick. See how we do not cease to laugh, even though we have little to eat.’” 18 • www. cs. org
It was not uncommon for some Tribal Peoples to engage in ceremonial fasting and dancing to increase their chances of securing food. In the winter of 1861, the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians were going through a severe shortage of meat and had very little else to eat. Determined to prevent community starvation, a man named Red Cherry went up on the highest butte outside of the village and fasted for three days to call the buffalo, but he was not successful. The Mandan White Buffalo Cow Society, a women’s organization, stepped in and began dancing day and night, and eventually buffalo appeared. The invention of agriculture and Western way of living had both beneficial and negative health consequences. It increased the amount of food availability, produced a greater number of available calories relative to those expended, decreased starvation, made possible the earlier weaning of children, and increased the population. Disadvantages included a lower dietary quality compared to wild foods, overreliance on certain foods such as maize, increased population density, which made the spread of disease much easier, and greater sedentism with onsite farming. The nutrition, growth, and development of people declined due to agriculture, and the bone size, height, and weight of ancient agricultural people decreased compared to groups that maintained a diverse meat and wild plant diet. Dental health also declined, resulting in greater tooth loss, abscesses, and periodontal disease. For many people, modern agriculture and living the life of a westerner has increased life expectancy, the ability to acquire more, and prevented hunger and nutritional deficits. For others, though, the round-the-clock availability of cheap, processed, inferior foods, lack of movement, and the stresses of westernized living has led to the “diseases of civilization:” coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, epithelial cell cancers, autoimmune disorders, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression, and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s. These diseases are rare among huntergatherers and other non-westernized populations, but most of us no longer live like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and our bodies struggle to stay healthy in modern times.
The diseases of civilization disproportionately affect Indigenous Peoples. For those of us living in industrial, urban environments, returning to a lifestyle that mimics our huntergatherer ancestors can help curb the diseases of civilization. That means increasing our movement and exercise, improving our sleep, getting outside more often, eating like our ancestors, and fasting. Fasting has become one of the most popular health and dietary practices in first world communities. Much of the interest is due to an increasing number of chronic, mismatched diseases arising from the lack of movement and Ad libitum (at one’s pleasure) eating environments that peddle low quality, processed, cheap foods. Although humans have practiced fasting for a good part of our history, Western science is now finally discovering its many benefits. Intermittent fasting has received the most attention. Intermittent fasting means going without food on a recurring basis; for example, fasting for 14–18 hours each day, or fasting for longer periods such as 48–72 hours, and then resuming regular eating patterns. Only non-caloric waters, coffee, or tea, or are allowed. Research has found intermittent fasting increases life span, helps prevent malignancies, increases the efficacy of cancer therapies, and improves biological circadian rhythms associated with better sleep. Fasting also improves our gut microbiome, which is critical for the prevention of gastrointestinal disorders and a well-functioning immune function. Types of intermittent fasting include the 16/8, alternate day, 5:2, only one meal a day (OMAD), and the fasting mimicking diet. The 16/8 refers to a fast that lasts 16 hours with an 8-hour normal eating window. For instance, the last meal of the day would be at 6:00 p.m. and the next meal would be at 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Alternate day fasting is eating normally one day followed by consuming only water, coffee, or tea the next day. The 5:2 fast, popularized by the British journalist Michael Mosley, means that one eats normally for 5 days of the week and then fasts for 2 days, consuming only 500–600 calories on each of the days. The OMAD fast consists of eating one meal within a 24-hour period, typically within one hour. The fasting mimicking diet, created by Dr. Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, requires between 5-7 consecutive days of fasting a few times a year, with food intake that is reduced by about 40 percent of an individual’s regular daily caloric intake. The diet consists of a low protein intake coupled with high fat and complex carbohydrates from plant sources. Fasting is meant for adults that are either at a healthy weight or overweight, and not severely affected by illness. Although fasting has been used to help one heal from mild to severe states of disease, anyone interested in fasting should always check with a competent health care provider to help guide them through the process and to determine their suitability to practice fasting. During this time of the COVID-19 global pandemic, can fasting help protect us against this virus? Science has shown that a healthy immune system is an important protective factor against many diseases, including COVID-19. Research has demonstrated that fasting improves the robustness of the immune system. In an important study at the University of Southern California, Professor Valter Longo and colleagues found that prolonged fasting protected the immune system of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment and activated
Photo by iStockphoto/nehopelon.
Some Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Dr. Mark Mattson, a renowned neuroscientist who studies the cellular and molecular benefits of intermittent fasting, has found that it has profound benefits on the body and brain: • Improvement in glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity, which is important in the prevention of obesity and type 2 diabetes; • Reduction of abdominal fat while maintaining muscle mass; • Reduced blood pressure and heart rate and increased heart rate variability (similar to what occurs in trained endurance athletes; • Enhanced brain health, learning and memory, and motor function; • Protection of neurons in the brain against dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and Huntington’s disease. • Mattson also discovered that intermittent fasting is beneficial because it imposes a challenge to cells, and those cells respond adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and resist disease.
stem cell regeneration of the damaged, old immune system. The same study also found that fasting reduced levels of IGF-1, a growth-factor hormone that has been linked to aging, tumor progression, and cancer progression. However, experts such as Dr. Peter Attia warn that multi-day fasting during the pandemic may make one more vulnerable to the virus. On the other hand, he says that if you are healthy and doing well on your normal fasting schedule, for instance, a daily 16-hour fast and an 8-hour eating window, it should pose no risk to your well being. Fasting is an important part of our human history. It opens up a way for us to heal from the diseases of civilization, to live longer, and reconnect with the healthy lifestyle of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Beyond ourselves, when we eat less (or fast) we can reduce greenhouse gases, slow global warming, and reduce our carbon footprint. Fasting from certain foods such as industrial raised meats can reduce sewage, pollution, and disease. Fasting costs nothing and is easily implemented into one’s daily routine. Returning to this traditional practice helps to liberate us from the failing and dangerous global corporate food system and could be the next great public health revolution for Indigenous Peoples suffering from the present and emerging diseases of Western civilization. — Michael Yellow Bird, PhD (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara), is dean and professor of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada. Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 19
Indigenous Peoples and Disabilities
Margaret King and son Hudson Francour.
Navigating Everyday Life in a Pandemic
Margaret King (Onʌyota’a:ka)
hekoli, my name is Margaret King. I’m a Tribal member of the Oneida Nation, a federally recognized Indian Nation in the United States. I live in my community, otherwise known as a reservation, which is located near a growing urban area in Wisconsin. I am an Indigenous single mother of five children and grandmother of three. I grow our own Indigenous food seasonally, which is important to our family. I am a member of the Lotinuhsyu?ní (People of the Longhouse) and belong to the Turtle Clan.
Margaret King’s son, Hudson Francour, collecting maple syrup, a traditional food for Oneida people. 20 • www. cs. org
For work, I’m a Tribal Disability Benefit Specialist with Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, which is an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization in Wisconsin. We support Indigenous people with disabilities to gain access to food, housing, and economic opportunities through government benefits. My job has allowed me to connect Indigenous Peoples from all Tribal backgrounds in Wisconsin to appropriate social and human services to meet their basic needs. This includes food and housing, in addition to regaining cultural identity and language that sustains self-preservation. While I wear a few hats both personally and professionally, my most important job is taking care of my son, who has special needs. During this pandemic, it has become more challenging as our entire household is mandated to stay home. I am both a mom and an employee in the same space, serving my clientele from home, facilitating my teenager’s online education and other daily activities. I teeter on the needs of work and teacher at any given moment in time. Most days I say, “School’s open, at home!” I first prepare my son, who has autism, to organize his education. This is more than checking his email and reading it together; it’s picking up on social cues to see if he can sit or concentrate. If he is not feeling awkward, overstimulated, or just tired of everyone being home, we work together to finish his schoolwork. Checking in on emotional and readiness cues and validating them are now a part of our daily opening. His emotional health is more important than getting things done. I often ask myself, Is he happy? What can be done to build his confidence? Recently, he’s more relaxed and not so anxious. His work comes before mine as we lay out his schedule in his home workbook, glancing at the next online reading assignment, school video chat, exercise, and of course, our chore chart at home. My son grew up nonverbal, and in order to get him to a place where I felt he could function among us, I put him in therapy so he could learn to speak and communicate his needs to function in society. This meant years of outcomebased treatment and attaining “correct” language. He is not able to fully communicate his needs as someone is always there to correct him or prompt him on appropriate responses. In between these times, he also had much anxiety. My anxiety was heightened also as I wondered who would accept him and how he would be able to work in society. Today, he has limited speaking abilities but often looks to me to assist him on how to respond to questions. I am working on freeing him of this “correcting” and allowing him to All photos courtesy of margaret King.
give whatever response he wants. I can imagine in his mind the freedom that will exist to be himself without a concern about how he’s being perceived. What if he’s thinking, “Whatever I say might be taken wrong, so I’ll just be quiet and let someone else say what’s needed?” What a huge burden to carry everyday. I had never thought about how this affects his self-confidence. Our Indigenous youth with disabilities need the confidence to be who they are without being continually corrected to fit into our society norms by strict therapeutic methods. They need to have laughter, joy, creative expression, and confidence to ‘just be.’ Our job as parents and teachers includes learning about our world and ourselves, but also to acknowledge our children’s emotional health and confidence. A beautiful joy of expression and belonging came to us this past winter. My son became a manager for a local boys Indigenous school basketball team. For years, he played basketball for his own home team with disabilities and received an opportunity to help our Nation’s basketball team by getting water, documenting statistics, and videotaping games. He told some of those players about his own upcoming games. Soon enough, a few of those boys started talking about how they should come watch my son play. Before long, they all showed up at his game and he was so proud that they came to his school to watch him play. Later, the coach from the team my son manages said that was the least they could do for him: “We appreciate how he volunteers for us. He is truly a team player!” My son and I were very proud that day. It was a true testimony of how we, as Indigenous Peoples, take care of our own and foster confidence and belief in one another. Some words in our language that describe this are Kahletsyatlu’sla (the heartfelt encouragement of the best in each of us) and Kanolukhwa’sla (compassion, caring, identity, and joy of being). Selecting an occupation in the disability field and having a child with disabilities is a handful, yet rewarding. Recently, I helped my community by sharing information about an agriculture group that’s delivering cheese and milk to food pantries. As a result, our Tribe’s access to food is improving to serve those marginalized by limited housing, inability to work due to the pandemic, or limitations of physical or mental disability. A client of mine recently shared with me their physical challenges of pneumonia while being encumbered by diabetic ulcers and depression. They experienced more challenges when learning that their aunt passed away as well as that their uncle attempted suicide. They told me that he was the only one helping deliver food to their house as they couldn’t get out of the house with their condition and the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Recognizing it is our way to help one another, I researched local grocery stores in search of those who can access food directly to their doorstep and connected them with that resource. They were grateful because they felt like their health was crumbling and had no positive outlook for tomorrow. My reason for helping Indigenous Peoples with disabilities is clear. I work for them so they can catch a break. This includes accessing food or helping them with their mental health or securing financial stability through a government program that helps pay for food and housing. In addition,
Hudson Francour in his graduation gown. He will graduate this year from Syble Hopp School, Class of 2020.
processing paperwork for government benefits requires that my clients have medical providers that provide substantial and consistent care. Getting to a doctor regularly isn’t easy when you are unable to get out of bed, shower, or even leave your bedroom. My clients’ mental health causes them to sometimes think someone is watching them or even to hear voices that aren’t really there. Transportation is another issue they face. On our reservation, cars break down, friends cannot always give a ride, and local transportation is often late. Getting to and from appointments isn’t as easy as one might think. Our people face roadblocks like these in addition to poverty, alcohol/drug abuse, and the disruption of our cultural identity, which is a result of hundreds of years of colonization. I also refer clients to mainstream counseling at a clinical mental health facility that uses talk therapy and prescription drugs. Separately, I enable clients to use traditional counseling at A.se wa?ethitsistu.ny^hse? (We make new, we make their fire), a program that uses our traditional ways of being and knowing to promote healthy relationships, medicinal plants, cultural stories, and ceremonies to encourage healing. Days during this pandemic are monotonous and long. The cold, rainy, and cloudy days of April in Wisconsin add to the dreariness. Fortunately, my daughter attends our Tribal school and shares with us daily motivational messages from her Principal to keep our spirits going and reminding us that encouragement is about Ka?tshat^sla (strength of belief) and remembering our core values: Kahletsyatlu’sla; Kanolukhwa’sla; Ka?nikuhliyo’ (The openness of the good spirit and mind); Kalihwi:yo’ (The use of good words about ourselves, our nation, and our future); and Yukwatsi’stay^ (Our fire, our spirit within each of us). Supporting and empowering my son for the last 18 years has fueled my passion to support other Indigenous Peoples with disabilities. Their needs are often neglected, forgotten, or are under-supported. At times, they lack the social, political, and economic power to make good decisions that impact their well being because the systems we are forced to operate in do not support them. Let us remember to extend love, compassion, understanding, and gratitude to our relatives who struggle with disabilities. When we uplift the most marginalized, it makes our communities even stronger. Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 21
Sovereignty Is Essential for Our Futures
Freddy Sébastian Medina, Kera Sherwood-O'Regan (center), and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim advocating on behalf of Indigenous Peoples' organizations at COP25 in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Jason Boberg.
era Sherwood-O’Regan (Māori) is from Te Waipounamu, the South Island of Aotearoa (New Zealand). She is the communications and engagement director at Activate Agency, a social impact creative agency that she co-runs with her partner. She works with nonprofits, community organizations, and activists, helping to center voices and stories of structurally oppressed Peoples for social change. Her work focuses on bridging Indigenous Peoples’ rights, the rights of people with disabilities, and climate change and health. While in medical school, she grew passionate about issues of inequity in Indigenous health and how Indigenous communities around the world are affected by health inequities and climate change. Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio producer, recently interviewed Sherwood-O’Regan.
Cultural Survival: What does the healthcare system look like for Indigenous Peoples in Aotearoa, and for Indigenous Peoples with disabilities? Kera Sherwood-O’Regan: We see that there are pretty
huge disparities in care that Indigenous people get. Indigenous Peoples suffer from higher rates of lung cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues. Some or our people also have a distrust of the health system. If you go to a general practitioner and are sharing some of your experience in just 15 minutes, you cannot build a very good relationship. Maybe there are dynamics that keep you from being open. Oftentimes there is active discrimination. There’s quite a bit of research that shows that general practitioners on average spend less time with their patients who are Māori or Pacific. They also tend to explain things less because there is this inherent assumption that Indigenous people don’t really have good health literacy, which, while it has some truth to it, is because our people have been left out intentionally by a lot of these systems. A lot of doctors will just assume that you don’t know what’s happening and they won’t bother trying to explain things to you, which obviously makes it very difficult to have informed consent in options that you might be provided with. For people with disabilities, 22 • www. cs. org
medical ableism goes on. New Zealand in particular doesn’t have a very good understanding of ableism and how that operates. Many Indigenous people also look to different healthcare providers to have more continuity of care. The general practitioner who diagnosed me with my fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, was really good. She was Māori. She referred me to rheumatologists and specialists, and was also supportive with me taking an herbal remedy to ease stress, anxiety, or sleep issues, and trying things like acupuncture and physio. In Māori culture, we have mirimiri, a type of healing massage that was really helpful for me. There are many general practitioners who just don’t have any understanding of the different dynamics for our people and are really dismissive of a lot about rongoā, or other sorts of traditional and herbal medicines. In my experience, Traditional medicine in New Zealand has not been very well integrated. CS: What impact is climate change having on health in your community? KSO: When we’re talking about direct effects of climate
change on health, we’re often thinking about things like a climate disaster. If there are floods, fires, or coastal erosion and people are injured, disabled people are left behind in those sorts of disaster responses—whether they’re not being rescued, whether the government plans and responses are accessible for disabled people and for Indigenous people, or whether those communities are even getting essential information. If that’s not occurring in a language that you’re comfortable with, or over communications that you’re comfortable with; if you’re d/Deaf and you can’t hear sirens or warnings, or if you’re blind or have low vision and you’re not getting all of that same input that’s prioritized towards people who are visual receivers of information, that can leave a lot of people behind. As the temperature rises, obviously that has some direct effects in terms of people’s health. Heat stroke is a really big thing, particularly for a lot of our elders, and it can also contribute to other health conditions, like my fibromyalgia
migraines. We also have direct effects that come from pathogens like viruses and bacteria that cause disease, and sometimes longer term disabilities, as well as the vectors that carry them. Those vectors might be things like ticks or mosquitoes. As the climate is changing, the patterns of those pathogens and vectors are moving. A big thing for Indigenous communities is also thinking about a lot of the indirect effects of climate change, like ecoanxiety. It affects a lot of people, but particularly Indigenous communities. We are losing our homes, but we are also losing sites that are very spiritually or culturally significant, like our urupā, or cemeteries. That is a huge amount of trauma that our people have to experience. Many island communities are also threatened with rising sea levels, and having to go to different countries and leave your cultural, historical, and traditional home is a hugely traumatic process. CS: What are some successes you have seen in the context of Indigenous and disability rights? KSO: One of the things that’s been really important is the
solidarity between Indigenous and disabled groups at the United Nations climate negotiations. I’ve been involved in an organization that my partner founded called SustainedAbility, which is a network of disabled people advocating for disability rights in the context of climate change. One of our core asks at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to establish a constituency for disabled people, because that’s currently not in existence. The Indigenous Peoples Caucus and International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change have been hugely supportive of the calls to action for disabled people to have some space in those negotiations as well. They have also echoed a lot of our calls for language that respects disability rights as well as Indigenous rights, and have supported our disabled Indigenous members to have a voice in these spaces. That shows the strength of our community and the strength of the Indigenous and the disabled rights movements—how we’re actually the voices who most need to be in the room, and we’re the ones giving space and ensuring everyone who needs to be in the room is right there alongside us. CS: What does the future of Indigenous health look like in your community? KSO: I used to put a lot of emphasis on changing the system
from within. I bought into that vision of being a Māori doctor, that at some point I would have some power to effect change. I’ve come to realize how that system is set up to protect itself. There are so many barriers that make it difficult for people who have different experiences, whether that’s being disabled or Indigenous or queer or from the global south or having English as a second language. There are so many different ways that that system is set up to continue to privilege cis heterosexual able bodied white men, essentially. I think that buying into that idea of system change having to happen from within actually harmed me a lot as a disabled and as an Indigenous person in medical school. I experienced a lot of trauma. Nowadays I’m thinking much more around how I can change the system from the outside. I take my hat off to my colleagues from medical school who are active and find ways to deal with institutionalized racism, ableism, and
oppression. Often these systems are set up to replicate themselves. If we can get outside of these systems and be active and try to challenge and change the underlying roots of those issues, then that’s really powerful. The future for the health of our communities is recognizing that we don’t always have to buy into these systems that harm us. We can have our own thing. So I think the future of Indigenous health is tied inherently to our sovereignty: sovereignty in terms of our land, our stories and narratives, our bodies. As an Indigenous woman and also as a disabled person, I’m constantly taught that my body isn’t right. The whole health system is about “fixing” our bodies and legitimizing other people dictating how our bodies should be, or how they should change, or how they should perform. That’s trying to justify essentially acts of violence on our bodies. So I think sovereignty in all forms is essential for our future health and well being. If our hapu, iwi, whānau, or our Tribes and families, were able to uphold their sovereignty as they were meant to be under the Te Tiriti o Waitangi, one of our founding documents, that would make all the difference in terms of our health. Because instead of trying to change the system that’s fundamentally not made for us, we could actually start to imagine something completely different. I don’t envision that would be a health system that’s separate from an education system or a justice system or from anything else. I see that when our sovereignty is recognized, we can focus on our whole communities and we can change those structures so that well being is embedded across it all. Something I found really valuable as a resource is the Matike Mai Report, which was about constitutional transformation. It suggests what governance and real partnership and power sharing could look like in New Zealand. That’s a really exciting model that I think can assure us of our sovereignty, and that could have a huge effect on our well being. CS: How has the Indigenous community in Aotearoa been responding to COVID-19? How are disability rights being addressed? KSO: Indigenous and disabled communities have been doing
a lot of work. I’ve mostly been engaging with other disabled groups. A number of iwi and hapū are taking this moment to exercise their sovereignty by setting up roadblocks. We’re seeing that a lot of privileged people are thinking that lockdown is a great time to go to rural communities, to beaches, or holiday homes where they are increasing the risk for our rural Indigenous communities. Our Indigenous people are setting up roadblocks and turning cars away and making sure that people can’t get through, which I think is a really powerful way for them to assert their sovereignty and role in protecting our people. Communities are also organizing and checking in with those most at risk. My Tribe, Kāi Tahu, have been calling our elders, making sure that people have what they need. In our disabled community as well, people are sharing food parcels to make sure those who are high risk for COVID-19 like myself, don’t need to go out shopping and put ourselves at risk. I see that happening in the Indigenous and disabled communities the most, that there is this real vibe of collective care and that we’re going to make sure that we all get through.
Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 23
Integrating Traditional Indigenous and Western Medicine into Nicaragua’s Health Systems
yrna Cunningham is the first Miskitu doctor in Nicaragua. She is part of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua and currently chairs the Fund for Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Cultural Survival Indigenous Rights Radio producer, recently interviewed Cunningham.
Cultural Survival: You have helped build healthcare, judicial, and governance systems based on traditional Indigenous knowledge in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. What do those look like? Myrna Cunningham: In Nicaragua and specifically in our
autonomous region, we have organized a family and communal-based model of a health system. In each area, a specific sector with a health facility is responsible for a certain number of families in a community. This health system is in our autonomous region, which recognizes collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, Afrodescendants, and ethnic communities. The autonomy law recognizes our Traditional medicine and the traditional health systems. There is coordination among
the Ministry of Health, our traditional health systems, the families, and communities. Traditional healers are part of this health system. There is also coordination between traditional and customary law in communities with the national legislation. Health, education, judicial administration, and land management are under the administration of the communities and in the customary law system. All of these areas coordinate with the rest of Nicaragua to try to have respectful arrangements. We have three levels of governance including a regional autonomous government composed of a regional council of 48 members elected by ethnicity. Under the regional parliament we have different secretaries responsible for health, education, production and development, and the environment. Our autonomous government coordinates with the national government, and we have our own legislative system. In our region, we have about 300 Indigenous communities. They have their own customary governance systems. They elect their own authorities and these authorities are recognized by their autonomous government. They have control of their territories and their natural resources; forestry, mining, and health are under their administration. Traditional medicine is recognized in our autonomous region, so the health system has the obligation to integrate it. Over the last several years, we have been working on a model of intercultural autonomous health systems where there is coordination between Traditional medicine and Western medicine. CS: Tell us about your journey toward becoming the first Miskitu doctor in Nicaragua. MC: I’m from a region that is very isolated on the border be-
tween Honduras and Nicaragua. We did not have a high school in my community, so I had to go to boarding school for my high school education. I worked as a teacher before I got a scholarship to go to medical school, which was on the other side of Nicaragua. After I graduated as a doctor I came back to work in my community, but I did not know much about Traditional medicine. I became the only doctor in a hospital that covered more than 300 Indigenous communities. It was then that I realized that there were diseases that I did not learn about at the university, and I realized that I had to coordinate with the traditional healers. That’s when my journey as a doctor respecting Traditional medicine started. My first [experience with this] was for patients who were bitten by snakes; I didn’t have any other treatment and they needed to be treated by traditional healers. I did my specialty in surgery but I realized that surgery was not enough to address traditional health issues, so I did more training in public health. Since then I have focused on how to build intercultural health
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All photos by Teresita Orozco Mendoza.
systems that do not prioritize Western medicine over Traditional medicine, but promote traditional intercultural health systems in which the two health systems can coordinate and use the strengths of one another to solve the problems in our community. CS: How is Traditional medicine integrated into mainstream medicine? MC: First, via the law. The national legislation of the Nicara-
guan Health System has a chapter that addresses Traditional medicine and it calls for the Ministry of Health to ensure that it’s integrated. The second way is through the coordination and the organization of the family, community, and health system. This model establishes that the public health system exercises control over each one of the areas in our country, each family, each community. It requires that intersectional teams of health workers exercise their work in one area. We should have midwives, we should have traditional healers; they are part of this team. If a pregnant woman is identified by the team as being in need of being close to the hospital, she can travel and stay in a home that has been created in the different areas for pregnant women waiting to give birth, and she can attend that home with her midwife. If she goes to the hospital, she can give birth with the doctor and the midwife together. The other way in which they coordinate is through epidemiological statistics. We have identified diseases that can only be cured by traditional healers, some of which have a very high epidemic rate. These go on a list of diseases that have to be supervised by the health system. We have a disease, blakira, that can affect a whole community with a collective hysteria. It does not have an explanation in Western concepts of biomedicine. Because it covers so many people and changes life in the community, it is under the epidemiological vigilance system. We have identified at least 35 traditional diseases that can only be cured through traditional healers. There is a fund in the national health system budget to cover the expenses that the traditional healers go through if they have to solve such problems. We have a traditional institute on Traditional medicine at the national level and in some of the regional areas. These institutes document traditional medicines and therapies. They support traditional healers so they can meet and exchange among themselves and sometimes with conventional doctors.
In the example of blakira, psychiatrists, psychologists, or other Western health workers have come in and tried to solve the problem and realized they cannot. They have to call in the traditional healer to come and deal with the bad spirits that are causing that disruption in the community. For traditional healers, a holistic approach is very important. A traditional healer can bring a lot of experience in how to strengthen immune systems, how to gather the community and share the messages with the communities, how to explain what is happening. But, I don’t think traditional healers can work alone with new diseases. We have moved into a world in which the new epidemics that we are seeing require the participation of Traditional and Western medicine together. If we can do that, I think we can solve a lot of problems. CS: What does the future of Indigenous health look like in your community? What needs to happen to optimize it, from the State as well as from the community itself? MC: In my community, we need to continue strengthening
this model of family and communal health systems rooted in Traditional and Western medicine. If we can really strengthen this, we can foresee or identify new diseases. For example, we have a lot of diabetes, so if we can change the food system, we can help that region decrease the amount of drugs that are used for diabetes. But this requires participation of both systems. We have started training the health workers to understand the two health systems. We have a school of medicine in the university here in the autonomous region that is training intercultural doctors. Nurses and specialists also need to receive an intercultural training. We have to improve the documentation and evidence that can prove that if these two systems work together, things are better. I give you the example of the coronavirus at this moment: in our region, and the whole of Nicaragua, we don’t have all of the technology that is needed to confront a threat of this type. We have to improve our coordination so we can ensure that communities are closed, and once we get a vaccine, they can receive it. If we do not coordinate, this will be impossible to face. We also need to have good reference systems between Traditional and Western medicines and good centers where we can move patients where they are needed; centers in which they will also respect the communities. These are some of the things that we need to strengthen.
Spirituality is an important part of Indigenous health and well being.
CS: At what point do traditional healers in Nicaragua engage with Western biomedicine, and vice versa? MC: Traditional healers were very concerned when the first
cases of HIV/AIDS appeared. This was a new disease and they did not have a traditional protocol to deal with it. They began to coordinate with Western medicine to see what the other system could do for these types of patients. These new diseases that we are facing are the ones in which I see traditional healers calling on the other health systems. In the cases of maternal health and maternal mortality, we have very strong midwife groups, but sometimes they face problems and call on the Western system, for example when a patient has to go through a caesarean section. These areas are complementary. If you have to strengthen the immune system, traditional healers have some treatments that they use to strengthen your immune system, but sometimes antibiotics are needed. Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 25
KO E F G r a n t Pa rt n e r Sp ot l i g h t
Restoring Balance with the Earth Eastern Woodlands Rematriation
Families harvesting reclaimed white flint corn in the Assabet region of Nipmuc homelands. Photo by Kristen Wyman (Natick Nipmuc).
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ow more than ever, centering Indigenous food systems and restoring kinship is necessary to save our planet and the most vulnerable communities from the devastating effects of climate change. To that end, Eastern Woodlands Rematriation (EWR) is working to sustain the spiritual foundation of our livelihoods through Indigenous food and agroecological systems. Our projects are rooted in the reclamation of healthy food, wild medicines, and traditional knowledge through exchange, mutual aid, and apprenticeship within Tribal territories of the Northeast. We focus on local infrastructure needs of their various food cultivation spaces with the goal of building capacity through trust and care to others. Led entirely by Indigenous womxn and Two-Spirits, EWR aims to be non-exploitative and regenerative. We believe the process of rematriation supports the expression of our power from within; this expression is reciprocal and in generosity to our relatives. Yet this balanced way of life has been violently tested, limited, and stripped away from our womxn, Two-Spirits, and youth. The trauma of surviving more than 400 years of colonization and genocide has manifested through lateral violence, partner abuse, and high rates of substance abuse and suicide in many of our communities. What we desperately need as womxn and Two-Spirits are spaces to heal, organize, and strategize on ways to escape the colonial systems that are designed to keep us oppressed, unhealthy, and disconnected from the earth and our way of life. In a matriarchal framework, power becomes transformative. Rematriation re-powers our people and allows us to remember that we have what it takes to live healthy, balanced lives. By centering Indigenous womxn and Two-Spirits as medicine people, midwives, and food producers, we are rematriating our food and economic systems in a way that’s more resilient and just. The projects EWR carries out take place throughout New England. In the north, we work with the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamquoddy, and Penobscot Peoples and families; in the south, we work with Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Massachusett, Narragansett, and Mohegan Peoples and families, as well as urban, mobile, and displaced Native people. One of our primary projects is the Wabanaki Herbalism Apprenticeship Program, which aims to foster exchange, dialogue, and sharing of knowledge of Indigenous health practices with the long-term goal of developing a Tribal community apothecary and trained traditional birth and death practitioners who can serve local communities. By training and convening healers in our communities, we are building and reclaiming ancestral knowledge and making non-pharmaceutical health more accessible while reducing our reliance on pharmaceuticals. The apothecary is a space where we can deliberately assure the continuance of traditional healers. Given that the apothecary plays such an essential role in the community, expanding the number of trained individuals who
understand Indigenous medicine through the Apprenticeship Program was the logical next step. In it, participants learned about plant identification and harvest, cultural relationships with plants, making medicines and clinical application, along with home first aid, maternal health, prevention, and recovery. Since receiving the Keepers of the Earth Fund grant, Eastern Woodlands Rematriation has trained 12 apprentices; our 1-year apprenticeship concluded at the beginning of May. Apprentices continue studying and gathering medicines to begin by first building their home apothecary, and second, a community apothecary to share among kin networks. In addition, EWR has held multiple intensive sessions about food and land access grounded in spirituality and values of rematriation. These have included medicinal gatherings and teachings at our homes, reservation, and sites of cultural significance; the building of a home and community apothecaries; and a Roots and Barks Medicinal Session, which drew participation from prospective apprentices from southern New England. Members created an inter-Tribal herbal medicine donation list to address the needs of the communities we work with, which include resources for maternal health, anxiety/depression, culturally significant medicines, and prevention. We also share medicines for tea and salves with womxn of southern New England. “What is most beautiful about how far we have come in this grant period is the interaction we are witnessing among womxn and Two-Spirits from different Tribal communities in the Northeast, and the ways members are building with each other and offering their own unique gifts and power for the betterment of EWR and all of our respective families, kin, and homelands,” says co-founder Kristen Wyman (Natick Nipmuc). “Many Tribes are conditioned to be siloed, to focus only on their community, or in the case of many fed Tribes, to focus only on other federally recognized Tribes. Oftentimes, this leaves out families and individuals who have relocated for various reasons and aren’t directly being serviced by their Tribal governments, are living in urban areas, and/or state
recognized Tribes who hold important knowledge and continue defending land but are often left out of decision making and social political spaces. To see this level of grassroots organizing and exercise of self-determination among Indigenous womxn and Two-Spirits is really inspiring.” Co-founder Nia Holley (Nipmuc) adds, “Unfortunately with COVID-19, it’s more and more clear how the system we’re in does not acknowledge our humanity.” Wyman explains that Eastern Woodlands Rematriation has developed programs to adapt to the current crisis, “given how COVID-19 has amplified the struggles Indigenous communities already face. Since mid-March we have been hosting weekly community care sessions offered to our member families and Indigenous kin networks. Each week is either focused on food as medicine or as a space for participants to speak about their experiences and find community.” The group is also strengthening their mutual aid response for Tribal families by surveying members and identifying their needs, as well as distributing seeds, seedlings, remedies, and produce from Maine to Massachusetts and parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island. This involvement on a regional level is critical; as cofounder Alivia Moore (Penobscot) says, “Our local struggles are also connected to regional struggles across our Tribal communities.” Eastern Woodlands Rematriation plans to continue its apprenticeship program by formally offering two-year apprentice opportunities to members in southern New England. We will also be creating opportunities for youth to engage in apothecary development and herbalism as part of a substance abuse prevention program. Over the past year, we have succeeded in promoting a balanced approach toward medicine, healing, and food and economic systems. Despite the challenges COVID-19 poses to vulnerable communities, which include Indigenous Peoples, EWR is working hard to meet the many urgent needs of its members while continuing to plan our future work and progress toward enriching individuals, our kin networks, and our planet.
Medicines gathered by Wabanaki herbalism apprentices at Penobscot Nation.
Families harvesting wild blueberries in Nipmuc homelands of Western Massachusetts.
Photo by June Sapiel (Penobscot).
Photo by Marcy Hendricks (Mashpee Wampanoag).
Cultural Survival Quarterly June 2020 • 27
yout h f e llow sp o tlig h t
Medicinal Plants of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec Estrella Jhonaí Gutiérrez Vásquez
he Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship, as part of the Community Media Grants Program, supports young Indigenous leaders between the ages of 16–26 who are eager to learn about technology, program development, journalism, community radio, media, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights advocacy. This is the third year of the Fellowship Program, which has awarded grants to 22 youth to date. Estrella Jhonaí Gutiérrez Vásquez (Mixe/ Ayüük), 17, is from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico. She has participated at her local community radio station, Radio Jënpoj, from a very young age. When she was 9, she learned audio editing with the help of her father and became a program editor by the time she was 15. Her fellowship project, entitled “Tyikyëë’nyëm Tyik’ä’jtsyëm Yë N’ääts Yë Nkukoj” (Taking Care and Feeding Our Roots to Make Them Bloom), aims to strengthen the Ayüük language, worldview, and ancestral knowledge by producing a series of radio programs in Ayüük and Spanish. She recently created a guide and radio program on medicinal plants found in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec and how to use them for prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional Medicines Recommended in COVID-19 Prevention. Recipes and instructions contributed by Santa María Tlahuitoltepec citizens. 1. Willow and mezcal bath to fight against fever, one of the symptoms of COVID. Preparation: Heat water, boil the willow, and add one liter of mezcal. Use: Bathe with the mixture. 2. Pumpkin bath to fight fever, one of the symptoms of COVID. Preparation: Heat the pumpkin. Use: Take a pumpkin bath. 3. Garlic to alleviate cough, one of the symptoms of COVID. Preparation: Peel the garlic so that it can be taken as a pill and chewed, crushed, and boiled in water, adding half a lemon. Use: Drink the boiled mixture to open constricted airways. 4. Garlic, onion, lemon, and honey to combat cough, one of the symptoms of COVID. Preparation: Boil the water adding ¼ onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 lemon, 2 teaspoons of honey. Use: Take as a tea. 5. Eat healthily: quelites (edible greens), avocado leaf, a lot of garlic, and accompany meals with huaje. These foods have a high vitamin content so they help to keep our immune system healthy and strong. 6. Use some of the plants mentioned above to fight symptoms such as cough, fever, and headache; others are responsible for detoxifying the body. 28 • www. cs. org
Estafiate/Mugwort treats digestive problems and regulates menstruation.
Epazote-putteety/wormseed has anthelmintic, antiinflammatory, and pain relieving properties.
Menta/Nëxu’uk/Mint treats stomach disorders, clears the airways, and cools the body.
Ruda/Mëkku’ujts/Rue treats stomach, eye, and ear ailments; also eliminates lice.
Sauce/Tum’tsye’/Willow relieves colic, regulates menstruation, helps with sleep, and combats fever.
Sabila/Mantexy/Aloe vera may be used as soap and aids in digestive issues.
Lengua de vaca/Jatsy Tyojts has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It is used in treatments for diabetes, arthritis, and sexually transmitted infections.
All photos courtesy of Estrella Jhonaí Gutiérrez Vásquez.
L-R: Beader Rosario Mendoza, painter Antonio Coche Mendoza, and painter Angelina Quic Ixtamer have been working with Guatemala Art and Culture Connection for many years.
B a z aa r a rt ist
Promoting Indigenous Artists Guatemala Art and Culture Connection
uatemala Art and Culture Connection works with Maya villages around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and collaborates with traditional Maya communities in order to bring their art and crafts to the wider international market. The paintings and crafts depict themes that are an integral part of their life and culture and often incorporate designs and figures that are based on centuries-old traditions. “Our vision is to utilize this art and the crafts as a means of connecting people across borders and cultures and supporting local initiatives in the communities we work with. We also seek to increase awareness of the economic, political, environmental and social issues impacting these Indigenous communities and to cultivate an appreciation of their rich art and culture while helping to support the artists and local economy through the fair trade sales of their art and crafts,” say founders Imre and Lorna Kepes. The villages that work with Guatemala Art and Culture Connection represent three Maya communities and languages: Tz’utujil, Kaqchikel, and K’iche. San Juan La Laguna (Tz’utujil) is smaller and more traditional and has the highest concentration of cooperatives. San Pedro La Laguna (Tz’utujil) is larger and is the birthplace of the art naïf style. Santiago Atitlan, the largest town on the lake with a population of 50,000, is known for the atrocities it has suffered during Guatemala’s civil war, including massacres of civilians, but today it is also known for the spectacular beadwork and weaving its artists create. Guatemala Art and Culture Connection represents more than 30 artists and artisans. The artists are known for their distinctive style and their works have been exhibited in places such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and galleries and shows internationally. One of the artists, Angelina Quic Ixtamer, born in San Juan, explains, “Most of the women in my village do fine embroideries and weaving, but I wanted to do something different.” Quic also says she initially faced “severe criticism from other women because they regarded painting as exclusive to men.”
All photos by Guatemala Art and Culture Connection.
As the first female oil painter from her village, Quic has become renowned nationally and internationally. Quic, along with her husband, Antonio Coche Mendoza (also Tz’utujil and born in San Juan), opened their own gallery in 2002. She hopes to travel internationally to exhibit and sell her work. “What I love most about what I do is that when I paint, I think back to the lives of our predecessors and the work they did on the field, which is deeply rooted in my country’s culture. I used to help with the coffee harvest and picked about 60 pounds a day. Now my husband and I are able to support ourselves with our art,” she says. Coche is represented in UNESCO’s 2001 book, Art Naïf: Contemporary Guatemalan Paintings. His career as an artist began early and evolved rapidly. “I was the first person in my family to start painting,” he says, but has since taught several of his siblings how to paint. Today “many of the residents of San Juan appreciate how we are depicting and valuing our culture through our art. Painting the culture and the traditions helps to preserve them, and in addition helps to validate them.” With the help of Guatemala Art and Culture Connection, artists like Quic and Coche have been able to bring their work to an international audience, fostering worldwide respect for Indigenous artists. The Kepes say that now, during these challenging times, “the artists and artisans we work with tell us that they are struggling to sell their art and support their families. We are exploring new ways to market their work and plan to open up an online store by the end of June.” A percentage of sales will also go to help the local programs they support. Please visit guatemalaartandcultureconnection.blogspot.com or the Facebook page, Guatemala Art and Culture Connection, for more information. The 2020 Summer Bazaars in Newburyport and Tiverton in July are cancelled due to COVID-19. Please stay tuned for online shopping opportunities and future dates and locations at bazaar.cs.org.
Cultural Cultural Survival Survival Quarterly Quarterly June June 2020 2020 •• 29 29
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