The original people, the first inhabitants of this land have been facing increased challenges during the COVID 19 pandemic. There are still stories about infected smallpox blankets and the Spanish Flu pandemic that remain in the oral histories of many nations.
When assessments are being made at federal levels, as Canadians deal with a failing economy, their own uncertain employment and threats to life and livelihood, it is difficult for anyone to care beyond themselves or their families in this turbulent time.
Yet it is exactly this time that calls for the community and collectivity that First Nations practiced pre-settler occupation. This is not to say there weren’t force majeure acts that original nations had to deal with over the course of their time on this island now called the Americas. It is understood in many oral stories, pictographs, songs and ceremonies that there is a necessary relationship to maintain between the people, the land and the waters so that there will be ongoing life on this planet.
In our original systems, the relationship between health and spirituality transcended the boxes that exist today. There is physical health, mental wellbeing and the strength of spirit, that must all function together to help human beings survive. It is interesting that there is some comparison now to physical health, but the mental health and spiritual health boxes are not really considered.
As Indigenous people, our people are suffering from not only the possible physical traumas brought by this pandemic but also from ongoing physical, mental and spiritual attacks that have been ongoing since the first settlers stepped off their boats on Canada’s eastern shores.
Several Indigenous writers write or try to convey the power of the original systems that existed pre-settler. The power of these original systems continues to flow through the languages, the ceremonies, stories and songs that have been passed from generation to generation.
There is an interconnectedness that brings together the minds of the people when they participate in the songs and ceremonies that have always connected the people to the land and cosmos. It is this interconnectedness that First Nation people are drawing on in the time of the COVID pandemic.
When the settlers came, they did not see highly developed systems with specific leadership roles including the elevation in the roles of women or the medicine men, women or holy people. They only saw men and women and families, a camp or base leader and a group housed or living together. From this first siting, the European thinking first settlers drew erroneous conclusions.
The European patriarchal lens could not see the power of Indigenous women, matriarchs, grandmothers or healers. The European patriarchal lens could also not see the importance in utilizing all the strengths of a community for a specific time, ceremony or action. Patriarchy saw only the limited view that they could see. Men were in charge.
It is from this first misconception that the chasm between Indigenous perceptions, stereotypes and erroneous materials builds in mainstream minds while the Indigenous people themselves hold onto their ancient truths.
Colonization, the doctrine of discovery and manifest destiny all become early settler rhetoric and policy that quickly change the narrative of the Indigenous people. There is a message that underpins European then Canadian government actions – the message is to Christianize, assimilate or terminate the “tribal” thinking that exists in the western hemisphere.
It is only now, on the precipice of world annihilation with climate change, pandemics and other natural occurrences like tsunamis, floods and earthquakes that science is beginning to catch up to the interconnected thinking that the original peoples have always held as a collective memory.
Western societies and the industrial world have been hell bent on separating themselves from the hierarchies and royal houses that governed their European worlds. They have tried to elevate the merchant classes and the economic gods to replace the divine right of kings. They have failed.
The western plan to civilize the new land has erupted in the same paradigm that had settlers immigrating to Canada and the United States. There are a few powerful men who govern through corporations. There are still serfs but now they are called employees or the employable. The whole system is built on a notion that there is freedom in choice for all men.
How is there freedom of choice in electing governments when huge corporations donate to political parties advancing their work and agendas when their racehorses come into power? There is only a choice between evil and more evil, with tacit lip service given to the good or the utopian ideals that are not possible in a competitive world.
Even now as COVID 19 makes its way through the country called Canada, there are cries to return to “normality.” There are cries to stop the social isolation, the restriction of goods and services and work stoppages so the hamster wheel can resume spinning.
Most of the cries to stop social isolation are based on the individualistic me me me society that has been fostered by capitalism. There are millions of humans who require instant gratification shouting YOLO (you only live once) without cares or compassion for others, elderly people or society in general. Social isolation was brought about to restrict the possible exchange of the virus that would endanger the general population, the elderly or physically compromised and of course thousands working in health care. That is not a good enough reason. Doug and Bob Mackenzie apparently still need their beers by the lake.
In First Nation communities, lockdowns are happening. The control of land or jurisdictional boundaries is important because we have had the history of allowing newcomers onto our lands with poisoned blankets or intentions.
Systemic racism does not stop during a pandemic. In fact it may worsen because lockdowns stop access to the Indigenous First Nations on reserve. In the upcoming months, the First Nations are looking at surviving in rural areas where there are hunting and land restrictions. There has been mixed messaging on ceremonial practices coming from provinces and federal offices. As we go forward, there is a necessity for all people to see that there is a connection between land, water and life. But the real question remains, is it too late to save an individualistic society with collective measures?