Many people are familiar with it because much of Dances With Wolves was filmed on the Rosebud reservation so those scenes seem very familiar to me. I don't personally live on the reservation now, but most of my family does many of our friends do. And as a member of a tribe, you end up with very deep connections to your people, to the land and just this sort of really deep connection with who you are and how being a member of the tribe, the community, your family, the land, and the animals makes you who you are.
I mean, we all were reading about it and then the paper, and, or - they're not papers anymore. You can tell I'm a boomer - that online news and hearing about what was happening in Washington and then how quickly things moved. I knew that I would be staying home. I have some health issues and my doctors said I'm always in the red zone. So I knew I wouldn't be leaving. I just thought, Oh, I'm just gonna do these things that I have been, you know, a bit too busy for, and of course I ultimately did sourdough because everybody did. Right.
And, and it wasn't very far into it, I had been talking with a friend of mine and she, because I started sewing masks. That's what I started doing. Right. And so I was sewing masks and I, a friend of mine said, Oh, I know somebody who is sewing masks for the Navajo nation. And, you know, as March we marched into March, it exploded on the Navajo nation. And I just thought, I can't stand here, sit here and do nothing while my native brothers and sisters are dying and I just felt utterly driven, just driven about it.
My people were safe in Rosebud. COVID hadn't come yet. And I just thought I've got to do something. So I was sewing masks and my friend told me about somebody she knew. His name was Tyrone White Horse and he had been gathering masks has a degree in public health. So he'd been gathering masks and food for the elders I think probably since February, because he knew what was coming. And March 27th was the first day that he and I spoke. And that is where everything started as a very small Facebook group. And I remember going into the mass sewing groups and, like, begging for 40 minutes masks.
They were the hot spot where everything came from. It's where the church, there was a church meeting, a large one, and somebody in the audience had COVID and they coughed. And then everybody was in vans to go back and it went immediately everywhere. It was everywhere. So many homes and it was shocking when I called Kayenta and spoke to them and they said we have nothing. We don't have enough PPE for our doctors and nurses. The federal government is the one that is supposed to supply the PPE to the Indian health service hospitals. And they didn't, they didn't do it. And these doctors and nurses were risking their lives every day to serve the people. And it just, it grew - it had a very much its own sort of really rapid growth with our group and our effort and went very quickly as we got more people and always more Native Americans because there is no use saying that a group is Native American, if they're not native led. And we certainly didn't want to be a token sort of native thing. And it just grew. And I, it was just incredible to watch that growth. It was just kind of, I likened it to, like, building a boat in the middle of the ocean during a storm.
And it was just crazy. And there was just a lot going on, but there was just - lots of people will say they care. Lots of people say, Oh, we care. There just aren't as many who actually care enough to do something. And the people that I've gotten to meet are people that actually care enough to do something about it.
And Kayenta told us later we were the first ones to answer their call for help and to get things as quickly as we could to there. And that just kind of started our COVID relief and at first it was very directed on Navajo because, and from there went to Hopi and the pueblos, which line the edge of Navajo and Hopi he's in the middle of Navajo, like an Island. And then the Apache tribes are on the sides and the Tohono O'odham, which are in the bottom of Arizona. And it went from being specifically Navajo to very quickly being inter-tribal work that the swore not the only ones with a focus on getting PPE to the first responders, but also a very deep understanding that if we did not protect the community that we were going to be in even worse trouble.
Sadly COVID effects native Americans very badly - more likely to get it more likely to die from it. And the ones who are going to die were our elders and they have always been our treasure. They're everything to us. They are not only the keepers of our past, but they hold the vision of our future. Without them, we lose ourselves, we lose which way we know we're supposed to go.
And it became clear to me very quickly that I was not doing this for myself, not ever. And that I have been since the beginning been invited by the ancestors of not just my people, but all of the people around, all the native people. I have felt their direction. There have been times when we felt so blocked in what we were doing, like, how are we going to get through this? And without fail every single time something has come and I call it a golden ribbon and it comes down and we weave it, braid it into the path before us and we keep going.
And we cannot fix everything. But we can do what we're being directed to do, where we need to be going, where we're being invited to do the work and with that, and with giving everything that we can to it, there's nothing more that I guess I would hope that when I’m much older, that I will look back on it and that there will be no regret that I had done everything that I could.
So when COVID came to South Dakota, a couple of months ago, it came slow. And this is the first surge for us. It's difficult not to have feelings about watching native people die, knowing that we're a part of that, feeling kind of helpless about what's going on. But when it comes home, it is just, heartrending absolutely heartrending.
And it is terrifying because you don't know who is going to be next and you don't know, are they going to live or not? And because South Dakota itself and North Dakota, as a state, both of them, their state governments have not been wise with COVID measures and rejecting all masking and social distancing and things like that. So the state itself is in deep trouble. And what it's done is put a lot of pressure and stress on the hospital system there. And because the IHS, the Indian Health Service hospitals like the one on Rosebud that my family goes to is very small and very ill-equipped, which is not uncommon with IHS, because they're so underfunded.
And to hear that you have a family member who's struggling with heart issues and they want to LifeFlight them out to Rapid City, but they can't. There are no more beds left. And so. It's just,
I don't know. I find it hard to find the words for how frightening it is. Here the stress in my family, my friends, when I call the tribal offices, when I call Great Plains to hear their deep distress and the certainty that they do not have enough, not enough food, not enough PPE. There isn't enough. There aren't oximeters for people to take home, to check their oxygen at home. Most people don't even have a thermometer on the reservation. And then you run into the problem of it can't even get delivered because the address is are right. So Amazon won't deliver and it just is, it feels almost insurmountable. How many people will often live in one place because there isn't affordable available housing, plus it's kind of a multi-generational thing anyway, but certainly, you know, 15 people don't really want to live in a single wide trailer. That's not a choice that you make willingly, but it's one you make.
So far, we've been really lucky. Nobody in our family has died, but we've had friends of the family who have, and people that we love and care about that will never be the same because of, you know, that they've had strokes and other things. And it's just, I never thought there would come a day that I would be glad that my mother wasn't here anymore. You know, never thought I'd be glad that there's a part of me that is because I don't have to worry about her dying from COVID. And along with the grief of losing people that you love, you lose the ability to grieve for them the way you you're supposed to. There's no wakes, no feeds, no large groups. And if you do that and they shouldn't do it, it's not worth risking other people's lives for it. But it is so hard to give up the ability to grieve the way that is supposed to be the right way, the good way. And then that's taken from you too. It's really difficult right now. Just, it feels like it just, you're saying the same thing over and over again. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll pray for you and your family. You know, we hope. It just feels a bit hollow, right? Not quite the way it's supposed to be.
There's this meme that started going wrong, right at the beginning of the pandemic, when they were asking people to wear masks and it was a Native American and they were like, Oh wait, you don't like the government telling you what to do and where you should go and what, you know, Oh, you haven't been native for a very long, have you. We've been pushed around forever, told where to go, what we can do. So it's, it's funny, but it's also true.
Many of the native Americans, especially the ones in the generation above me feel rightly or wrongly, we don't know, that they were used for guinea pigs, that there were things that were never explained to them, medical things that happened to them and that they were never actually told about.
And I know that from that articleI read that many African-Americans feel the same way that they were guinea pigs. You know, you look at the Tuskegee airmen, right? And so there's no sort of trust between Native Americans and the federal government. Absolutely not. They have never been our friends and they have never done what they're supposed to do.
And anytime the feds say sure. I'm like, Hmm, this isn't exactly a blanket, but Hey, you know, and that. You know, some people won't understand the blankets part, but the federal government actually sent smallpox infected blankets to the native Americans to create. And it did kill a lot of native Americans that got smallpox from the blankets. So it's kind of a thing that we say among ourselves, like, Oh, if you get a shipment of blankets from the feds, just say, no, thank you. So hoping that at least for the native people, that the vaccine isn't yet another smallpox infected blanket for us, I'm going to wait and see, I feel very skeptical.
My grandchildren are everything to me. I have a dozen of them. They are my heart. I adore them. I, you know, so having sleepovers at grandma and grandpa's and what are we going to do? And I do Gramma camp every year in the summer, all the cousins come to my house and stay for a few days. And we always have some sort of the theme and I literally spend the whole year planning it because it is such a big deal to me.
And so last year we - not last year, the year before - we did photography and saw the grandkids got a digital camera and I taught them a lot about photography and terminology and how to change depth then anyway, and we just have so much fun together. I do a lot of science. We've hatched brine shrimp then made borax crystals and we go on field trips and we go swimming and play in the splash pad and just have so much fun.
It's just utter chaos actually is what it is. It's a chaos of cousins. It's just. Which is, uh, my daughter's my involuntary camp counselor. She comes along and helps wrangle all of them. And we just have such a good time. So, you know, my mind was kind of already going there, like, what are we going to do for Grammy camp this year?
And I kind of collect things together and I have not had my grandchildren since March and it -there've been many tears, mine, their’s. You know, it's been just incredibly difficult to have to back off of that and realize that the best thing for them ultimately is for me to take care of my health so I could continue to be there for them.