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Using Culture to Cope with COVID

COVID has brought more than just physical illness to our communities. It’s brought a range of emotions, such as stress, anxiety, worry, and more. Fortunately, we are strong and resilient. We can get through this difficult time by turning to our ancestors and traditions for guidance. Our Native cultures include many wellness practices that can be useful in coping with COVID. Although there are many ways our cultures can help us cope, here are a few things to consider:

  • Speak with your Elders. Many of our Elders have so much wisdom on wellness and healing. They’re knowledgeable in our traditional teachings, addressing different aspects of life, and are legends of resilience. Talk to your Elders about your feelings and ask for direction on getting through this tough time. Be sure that you’re protecting yourself and your Elders when speaking with them (e.g., by getting vax’d, and wearing masks and gathering outdoors if needed).
  • Eat traditional foods. Stress during COVID can lead to unhealthy eating. If you have access to them, eating your traditional foods can provide comfort, healing, and nutrition! They can also provide familiarity in a time of uncertainty. Ask a family member to help you prepare a traditional dish. Remember you can use food as medicine.
  • Smudging is often used to purify or cleanse a person or place. During COVID, you might be feeling negative or confined in your space due to isolation. Smudge yourself and your space to get rid of any negative emotions and to be cleansed. Ask an Elder or a family member to teach you how to smudge if you don’t know how to. It’s also possible to create your own traditions around smudging if you do not have access to your peoples’ knowledge. As Native peoples, we have always been able to adapt our healing protocols and ceremonies to the needs of the time.
  • Dance, chant, and drum. Dancing, chanting, and drumming can connect us to our ancestors and provide healing. If it’s appropriate in your tradition, practice any of these to help take your mind off of COVID and connect to your land, identity, and wellness. You can ask a tribal Elder, leader, or family member to teach you these practices if you aren’t familiar with them but want to learn more.
  • Practice your language. If you are not as fluent as you’d like to be in your Native language or don’t speak it at all, take this time to learn more of your language! Not only will learning keep you distracted, but it will also help you to connect more to your culture and roots. Ask an Elder for direction or contact your Tribal library or cultural center for virtual tutoring or dictionaries. Some communities even have free online or in-person language classes.
  • Work on a traditional craft. Practicing a traditional art form, like weaving, carving, basket-making, or beading can be fun, creative ways to direct your attention elsewhere, express yourself, and become involved with your culture. For many of us, doing so also teaches us many important lessons, including patience and practice keeping a good mindset. Finally, working with traditional materials connects us to our roots and can help us turn inward to “hear” our own thoughts and be more mindful. Check out Auntie Manda’s guidance on how to start beading – We R Native here!
  • Support others. As Indigenous peoples, many of us share a common value of tending to others in difficult times. Ask yourself, “Who can I help?” “Is there any way I can support a friend, family member, or my community during this time?” Keeping up with our relations has been difficult in COVID, but this strong value benefits all of us.

Culture is not only important to our identities but is important to our wellness and healing. If you feel uncertain about using culture to cope with COVID, talk to a tribal Elder, leader, or family member about where to start.

For more information on using culture to cope with COVID, check out these resources:

Author: Stephanie Paz is a Tigua Indian of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso and is working towards a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion from New Mexico State University.

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