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Even as Indian Country copes with the COVID-19 crisis there is evidence of our remarkable resilience and survivance. We are the postindian warriors that Anishinabe writer Gerald Visenor spoke of in his book Manifest Manners.
Stories are emerging from Indian Country demonstrating incredible generosity and courage in the face of the pandemic. From California to Connecticut, and many places in between, as tribally-owned casinos are shutting down they are donating thousands of pounds of perishable food to communities in need (Indian and non-Indian, on-reservation and off) and as we all are isolated in our homes, popular social networking sites have become hubs for sharing our tribal cultures, traditions, and social dances as “social distancing pow-wows” are created and viewed. We’re highlighting just a few of these stories here.
Locally, the Gila River Indian Community donated all perishable foods and supplies from their hotels and casinos to community members in need. These items reportedly totaled $60,000 in value. Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino in Maricopa has donated 15 pallets of food to the Ak-Chin Indian Community, to distribute to the Community’s elders and families in need. The Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise delivered a large quantity of food from its restaurants to the Nation and its Districts, to help those impacted by disruptions from the COVID-19 crisis.
In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation distributed all perishable foods from its casinos and restaurants to tribal citizens. The tribe prioritized the delivery of perishable food from its casinos to nearly 75 elderly first language speakers and even sent Cherokee language speakers to their homes to deliver the food. “They got something more than [food],” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “They got a Cherokee speaker who went out and visited with them” … from a safe distance, he added.
Connecticut tribes Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe donated more than 33,000 meals to a local food bank from their casinos. Additionally, two tribes in hard-hit Washington state donated significant amounts of food to local food banks. The Tulalip Tribes donated nearly 2,700 pounds of food to the Marysville Food Bank from its Quil Ceda Creek Casino, while the Stillaguamish Tribe contributed food from the Angel Of The Winds Casino Resort to employees and local food banks.
In Michigan, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi donated nine pallets of food totaling 7,450 pounds from its Four Winds Casino locations. The donation was distributed to those in need throughout Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana by a local food pantry.
In California, Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon, and Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula have each donated thousands of pounds of perishable food to charities that help people in need in Southern California. Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino, operated by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, donated 10,000 pounds of perishable food to FIND Food Bank. Morongo Casino Resort, operated by the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, has donated more than 18,000 pounds of food to Carol’s Kitchen and Feeding America. Pechanga Resort & Casino, operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, donated nearly $100,000 worth of food to Project T.O.U.C.H. and the Community Mission of Hope. Also in California, the Augustine Casino, operated by the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, donated nearly 3,000 pounds of fresh, perishable food to its team members and Martha’s Village and Kitchen, a local non-profit.
In addition to displays of significant generosity by tribal enterprises, individuals are sharing social-cultural practices. They are going viral online as those who live in Native American communities across the country are organizing online, hosting social-distancing pow wows and posting videos of healing dances to offer support during the coronavirus pandemic. Jingle dress dancers are sharing videos on YouTube and Facebook from Arizona, Montana, the Dakotas and elsewhere. In Wisconsin, jingle dress dancers and singers performed outdoors on the Bad River Reservation last weekend while community members watched from their cars.
Facebook groups like Social Distance Powwow are connecting dancers, vendors, and others. The group notes that “many vendors, dancers, [and] singers have been horribly affected by this virus shutdown” and urges all members to “spread love and positivity” while supporting each other through these challenging times. The group has even scheduled an online powwow for this Saturday, March 28th complete with emcees, singers, and dancers. If you are missing culture and community, please tune in this weekend.
It is crucial that in these times of hardship, we must stay strong as our ancestors did and remember that we will make it through this and there will be many better days ahead. As tribal communities, we have suffered through worse, only to transcend adversity and emerge as resilient as ever. The same will be true for COVID-19. It is our hope at AIPI that stories like those highlighted here will remind us of our collective strength. Be safe and stay strong.