In today’s blog, we will take lessons from the Native American philosophies, religions, and lifestyles to help us cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is very large and every human society has it’s own way of thinking. There is no such thing as black and white or right and wrong ways to life. It is better to try to learn from different people instead of trying to eliminate them without understanding.
On March the 11th, the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 a global pandemic. This is a particularly difficult time triggering PTSD for the indigenous people of the US whose ancestors were intentionally exposed to deadly viruses brought in from Europe. The local populace had no immunity against these novel pathogens.
Such population densities in precolonial America were supportable because the peoples had created a relatively disease-free paradise. Settlers observed Native Americans engaging in frequent bathing – even in winter in cold climates. One commented that the Native people go to the river and plunge in and wash themselves before they dress daily. Above all, the majority of the indigenous people of the Americas had healthy, mostly vegetarian diets, based on the staple of corn and supplemented by wild fish and four legged animals. People lived long and well with abundant ceremonial and recreational periods.
Time never stays the same. In January, things appeared quite normal when we had initially set up an event on March the 14th. The event was a viewing of a documentary by Qadira Mohammad. I called several of my friends asking them whether we should cancel Qadira’s documentary showing but, since there was only one known case of COVID-19 at the time in Tulsa, Oklahoma and we didn’t have a large crowd, we went ahead with the plan. Qadira Mohammad is a black Muslim woman. She is a new Oklahoma resident who graduated with a B.A. from Mary Baldwin University in political science with minors in religious studies and peacebuilding and conflict resolution in May 2019. She created the documentary “In unseren Stimmen (In our voices)” concerning issues surrounding immigration and citizenship in Germany through her relationships with the migrant communities in Hamburg. The intent of the film is to bring more awareness to matters concerning migration in Germany and, perhaps, bring greater perspective to these matters at home. In unseren Stimmen is a 2019 semi-finalist in the Oklahoma Black Film Festival and was shown during the festival weekend. During this event, all of my friends stayed careful and refrained from shaking hands or hugging each other.
From March 15 until today, April 15, the Corona virus cases in Oklahoma have exceeded 2,000. Oklahoma is one of the states with the highest percentage of Native American population in the entire country – where it is still less than four percent. Oklahoma is a red state with the majority of people voting for Trump. The state’s rigid Christian campaigners are pushing to end all kinds of lockdowns and restore the economy, which is a dangerous path forward in this pandemic. We have a reality TV showman pretending to be the president. Trump is threatening to cut funding by blaming the World Health Organization for his own incompetence.
In March I was supposed to go to Boston for my CME (continuing medical education) conference but it got cancelled in lieu of COVID-19 pandemic. Last week was the first time in last 10 years when my clinic was only open for 3 days. I had a three months waiting list previously. The two days are being deducted from my vacation days until they run out. If things don’t go back to usual, I am looking at a pay cut. These are unprecedented times where 22 million people have lost their jobs and 3.5 million are already without health insurance. Exclusive employment clauses may need to be lifted during these times, and I could do telemedicine for some companies, but I am not too anxious to get back to work. We have studied and worked all of our lives any ways. I am taking things slow.
COVID-19 is a moment for all of us to pause our busy schedules and think about what is important in life. Ms. Mary Frances was a school teacher until she retired. She told me the story of Frederick the mouse for children. Winter was near and all the field mice were busy preparing and gathering food for the cold months ahead, all except for Frederick. Always the daydreamer, Frederick works on poetry that will warm the hearts and feed the spirits of his fellow mice when they will need it the most. When someone would ask Frederick what he was doing, he said that he was collecting sun rays for the cold dark winter days. My plan is to follow the footsteps of Frederick the mouse and collect sun rays for the winter days of my own life. My last three generations have lived in four different countries and we have pretty much seen everything.
Fear sometimes makes people do strange things. Unfortunately, some people started hoarding food and supplies without thinking about the elderly, sick, or poor people in need. Some posted pictures of empty retail shelves calling it socialism. It’s not socialism to hoard for yourself without regard for other human beings – that’s capitalism. I didn’t do any of that stuff. It’s an advantage of being Desi (A person of south Asian background) that we always have bags of basmati rice, lentils and whole wheat flour at home. My little sister called me and said, Baji (respectful title for older sister) save water. I already collect rain water free of chlorine for my plants so I didn’t worry too much about that either. Some people were being careless in saying that the virus is dangerous only for the elderly and that if they got sick, they will just get over it. That is irresponsible to say the least in the Pandemic of a highly infectious disease that they could spread to susceptible individuals around them.
Since Native ways of life were not written down and they were not recorded in videos or cassettes, these philosophies, religions, ideas, and the knowledge were passed down from one generation to the other through stories, songs, and dances. This is why elders have traditionally been regarded as institutions. Since approximately 95 million native American lives were lost in the last four hundred years, and the tribes were prohibited to practice their religions, a lot of this information has been lost forever. The Indian tribes have called for the protection of their elders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 is causing suffering across the world to people’s livelihoods, their spirits, and their emotional wellbeing. The Native philosophy stresses the importance of decolonizing from individualism and reconnecting with ways of community care. The tribes acknowledge that current circumstances can lead to paranoia and fear as their ancestors endured biological warfare in the past and that this pandemic is not being maliciously introduced to communities. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for the healthcare organizations to acknowledge the racial disparities and inequities that exist in our systems.
Last year, I wrote about participating in the new Anthrax vaccine clinical trial as a subject. It was a double blind randomized clinical trial that was testing the older anthrax vaccine that has three shots with a newer version which is two injections. I took part in the study, because it’s safe. Please trust the vaccines. Vaccinate yourself and your children. Vaccines do not cause autism or anything like that. They help you build immunity to fight against deadly viruses and bacteria preventing morbidity and mortality. The COVID -19 pandemic holds lessons for all of us that prevention is better than a cure.
According to the Native philosophy, panic and fear can diminish our immune systems which is actually a scientific fact. With a comparative review of Native American religions with the Abrahamic faiths, I found it interesting that the Indigenous peoples were connected with the physical world around them where they lived in harmony with nature while the Abrahamic faiths perpetuate beliefs that are largely based on imagination. According to the centuries- old Doctrine of Discovery, European nations acquired title to the lands they “discovered”, and Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europeans had arrived and claimed it. The indigenous cultures respect the earth while the followers of Abrahamic religions seem to focus on exploitation without regard for animals, plants, the earth or humanity. In last four hundred years, thousands of animal and plant species have gone extinct in the Americas, and the climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels, and the meat industry, has already started displacing people.
Native Americans practice burning local herbs which reminds me of agarbatti (incense) burning for fragrant smoke in South Asia. Incense is aromatic biotic material that releases fragrant smoke when burned. The term is used for either the material or the aroma. Incense is used for aesthetic reasons, aromatherapy, meditation, and ceremony. It may also be used as a simple deodorant or insect repellent. The purpose of prayers and worship should be to save mankind from distress. It doesn’t matter in what manner people choose to associate themselves with this spirituality. Instead of trying to take over other people’s lives, religions should give hope, center, and peace to people in times of trouble.
Looking back at the history of their ancestors, the native indians remember that they relied on chest-to-chest information to survive in the difficult times in their history. Without their traditions and spirituality, they would probably have been completely erased. During the social outbreak caused by the Corona-19 outbreak, these tribes recommend learning from each other about ancient spiritual healing, cooking methods, and local herbs. This does not mean rejecting modern education.
If viewed carefully, the Red Indian religions, way of life, and their philosophy are far more enlightened than the Abrahamic religions. They are based not on imagination but on the observations of the world around them.
Social distancing is an alien idea in Native American society because they live in close knit cultures but, for the safety and wellbeing of their families, tribes are trying to do their best relying on the latest scientific and medical information. With the help of lessons learned from their ancestors during the time of this global outbreak, the Indian tribes vowed to become independent in their basic food needs by using clean energy without relying on technology that is detrimental to the environment.
It’s time for all the people in the world to think about our human family in the context of a globalized world. How did human beings get here? How did our ancestors survive storms, floods, earthquakes, famine, war, and disease? What is important in life? When dying people were interviewed about their biggest regret in life, they said, “I wish I hadn’t work so hard!” Just by looking around us, we see how many plastic things we have that we could comfortably do without. None of us would die without them. This is the moment of the century that’s here to teach us how to bravely face this difficult time, to support each other, and to make better decisions for the betterment of all people.