The Spirit of Covid-19: Understanding the Coronavirus From an Indigenous Perspective
by Shelley Wiart
We are living in a time of prophecy. The Elders from many different tribes across Turtle Island have passed down stories about a time when Indigenous peoples would be called upon to share their wisdom. A time of being called back to the land. A time of great healing for Mother Earth. A call for unity. A call for Indigenous peoples to share their cultural teachings of interconnectedness, humility, harmony, and balance with all of humankind.
Dr. Duran’s book, Healing the Soul Wound: Trauma-Informed Counseling for Indigenous Communities (2019) opens with a prophecy from Ta Shunka Witco (aka Crazy Horse) which was delivered in 1877 during a pipe ceremony with Sitting Bull, near Standing Rock.
“Upon suffering beyond suffering, the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for the sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness, and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations, when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life and the whole earth will become one circle again. In that day, those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come, to those of my people to ask for wisdom. I salute the light within their eyes where the whole universe dwells, for when you are at the center within you and I am at the place within me, we are as one.” — Ta Shunka Witco (aka Crazy Horse)
In the introduction to Healing the Soul Wound, Dr. Duran states, “I truly believe that the time prophesied by Ta Shunka Witco has arrived. Even though this book is about Indigenous psychology, it is my feeling that the theory and clinical applications presented in this work may be useful to all the colors of humankind. In my clinical practice, I have witnessed that these ideas are accepted and offer succor to humans from all the colors that gather under the sacred tree of life.”
Before I apply Dr. Duran’s teachings from his interview to the coronavirus pandemic, I must introduce myself in the right way — the relational way — so that the Indigenous community members and their ancestors may know me and my ancestors. My positioning as a Métis womxn that was adopted at birth by settlers and reunited with my Indigenous relatives and heritage at age 26 informs my health research and the stories that I tell. I am a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NT). I have long-term community relationships and ties to both Treaty Six, where I currently reside (Lloydminster, on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan), and Treaty Eight, where I spend my summers with my biological family (Yellowknife, NT). The North Slave Métis peoples historically occupied the North Slave region of the Great Slave Lake. I am the daughter of Bill Enge and the granddaughter of Anne Enge with familiar ties to the Mercredi’s and Beaulieau’s. (Knowing and identifying our ancestors is an important practice in Indigenous research, ceremony, and therapeutic practices as described by Dr. Duran in his interview).
I share my intentions for writing this article because it helps us to build a relationship and you can better understand what motivates me as a writer and Métis academic. It is my intention to share culturally relevant coronavirus information and stories by and for Indigenous peoples. I want to discuss the coronavirus from a holistic perspective including mind, body, spirit and relational aspects. My purpose is to use my writing and storytelling skills, academic knowledge, and social media skills to disseminate this information as a form of Covid-19 education and discussion. I want to explore our relationship with Covid-19 using an Indigenous paradigm including our epistemologies (our understanding about the world) and ideologies (what should count as knowledge and who gets to make that choice), Indigenous traditional knowledge, and Indigenous methodologies such as my preferred method, digital storytelling. Moreover, as an Indigenous health researcher, I ground my “research knowingly in the lives of real persons as individuals and social beings, not on the world of ideas” (Wilson, 2008, p. 60). I am sharing my personal life experience, and those of Indigenous academics like Dr. Duran so that we may have relational knowledge of the coronavirus pandemic.
Indigenous academic, Wilson (2008) stated that an Indigenous paradigm is based in relational knowledge to all things:
“An Indigenous paradigm comes from the foundational belief that knowledge is relational. Knowledge is shared with all of creation. It is not just interpersonal relationships, not just with the research subjects I may be working with, but it is a relationship with all of creation. It is with the cosmos, it is with the animals, with the plants, with the earth that we share this knowledge. It goes beyond this idea of individual knowledge to the concept of relational knowledge. Who care about those ontologies? It’s no the realities in and of themselves that are important; it is the relationship that I share with reality” (p. 74).
According to Indigenous epistemologies there are multiple ways of knowing and it is our relationships with all things including the “interpersonal, intrapersonal, environmental and spiritual relationships, and relationships with ideas” that shapes our views of the coronavirus pandemic (Wilson, 2008, p. 74). By reading this article you will receive a different way of knowing the coronavirus through Indigenous prophecy, Indigenous relational knowledge, and the relationships formed here through story.
Dr. Duran gave me permission to use this interview from our Facebook group, Indigenous psychology reading and practice group. Dr. Duran’s teachings about healing the soul wound apply to the coronavirus pandemic. THE SPIRIT OF COVID-19 is a foundational teaching to understand Indigenous peoples worldview of illness, such as the coronavirus and how we need to develop a relationship with it. Please click on the audiograms (approxmiately 2 minutes each) to listen to Dr. Duran’s teachings, and my discussion will follow below.
Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Fernwood Publishing.
Duran, E. (2019). Healing the Soul Wound: Trauma-informed Counseling for Indigenous Communities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
What is the spirit of Covid-19 trying to tell us?
“In Western medicine, the idea is to get rid of it. And because western philosophy — Western medicine derives from it’s adversarial because of the subject-object relationship there’s no connection. And so then what we want to do is get rid of the sickness and within a lot of traditional healing circles, that’s unthinkable. What we do is we make a relative out of it and try to understand what it’s trying to tell us.”
How are we pushing and fighting against Covid-19?
“And even like with the COVID-19 I saw something out of India recently where, you know, very poor community, and there was a group of women they’re giving offerings to the spirit of Covid. Start that relationship with whatever this thing is because it’s alive and if it’s alive, it has life. And if it has life, there’s a knowing. It knows stuff. It makes it a lot more interesting for the patient to realize that now I can actually go and relate to this on an ongoing basis rather than keep fighting it, because you know Newton’s first law for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction. So if you push on whatever the diagnosis is it’s going to push back.”
How do these questions apply to my life?
I only speak for myself in this blog because I do not have the right to speak for other Indigenous peoples and it would a violation to attempt to pan-Indigenize this knowledge. Indigenous peoples, which include First Nations, Métis, and Inuit are diverse and our Indigneous epistemologies are based on, “our culture, our worldviews, our times, our language, our histories, our spiritualities, and our place in the cosmos” (Wilson, 2008, p. 74). My insights come from my relational knowledge as a Métis womxn, academic, mother of three girls, daughter of a Métis political leader, and an English speaker with close ties to both Treaty 6 and Treaty 8. My spirit is drawn towards sharing insights about Indigneous womxn’s holistic health, and I hold great respect in my heart for Indigneous womxn’s stories. I love to celebrate Indigenous womxn, as evident in my work and research with Women Warriors and my last post on Medium, Covid-19 Pandemic Leadership in Canada: 4 Indigenous Female Leaders.
I have prayed and contemplated for months what the spirit of Covid-19 is trying to teach me. The Elders have stated in prophecy, shared in this video COVID-19 and Anishinaabe Pandemic Prophecies that “all the laws that are being broken right now is what’s causing the sickness.” I contemplated about what Mother Nature was attempting to teach us in my first Medium blog, Pandemic Rebirth.
Also, I have been given the gift of mentoring youth across Canada during this difficult time which has lead me to contemplate my responsibility as the Indigenous mentor on the council and how I can share Indigenous research paradigms and demonstrate Indigenous knowledge translation. I decided to lead by example and share my relational knowledge on this blog.
As far as making a relative of Covid-19, I have offered it tobacco and held a spiritual practice with it since April. I wrote about my spiritual practice in my Women Warriors newsletter, Collective Trauma & Coping:
My parting thoughts about how we are collectively “pushing and fighting against Covid-19” are evident in the quantiative data. The surge in coronavirus cases in the United States this past week, due to the government’s irresponsible actions of opening businesses, demonstrates people’s resistance to the lessons of collective well-being. The time of “individualism” and selfish behaviours — the values that are perpetuated by capitalist, colonial and patriachial societies — are over. No one is safe from the coronavirus. Even if you are asymptomatic or present with mild infection, you risk passing the coronavirus to your loved ones and putting their lives at risk. Plus, new data released this week shows that “younger people are making up a growing percentage of new coronavirus cases in cities and states where the virus is now surging.” The security of not being infected because of young age is no longer a given. We must collectively take responsibility for our social distancing actions and make the sacrifices necessary to keep everyone safe. Stay home. Wash your hands. Connect with your family. Share your stories online. Reorder your behaviour to respect the laws of nature. If there was ever a time to learn about our interconnectedness, the time is now. All my relations.
Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Shelley is currently finishing her fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts program in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Athabasca University. Please sign up for the Women Warriors newsletter for more information about Indigenous women’s holistic health.