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Indigenous communities draw on nature, tradition for healing during pandemic

'This COVID time is a time to go back to Creation, sit down and reflect on yourselves,' said Rama band member and Deer clan ChiNodin (Big Wind) Ned Benson
The Little Creek Singers perform at the opening ceremonies of the Awen Gathering Circle in this file photo. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

He is ChiNodin (Big Wind) Ned Benson, Deer clan, a Rama band member raised in Curve Lake and now living in Sebright, who shared his knowledge and understanding on how some Indigenous people have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Benson spoke about the Indigenous people who have reached out to him and what they expressed as their successes within the confines of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Benson found Indigenous communities have not slowed down at all, but have been focusing on the traditional ways of being, going back to and diving deeper into their cultures.

That is one aspect of why the Indigenous community closures are lasting longer than the provincial plan to reopen. Each reserve has a web page where you can find the details on these closures. The Indigenous epistemology has created such a reverence for their elders. The knowledge and wisdom of one elder is invaluable and would be lost forever if COVID-19 were to invade their community.

It was said by Benson that, “if an elder passed on, the equivalent would be the loss of a library.” 

Another concern is the worry of inequity and systemic racism within the health-care system.

Benson shared his own need to go to Pau wau (powwow), put on his regalia and dance.

“We all miss the Pau wau. It's an extension of your family and we all miss that family connection,” he said. “After this pandemic, when things open and it is safe to gather again, we will be, through the loss of Pau wau 2020, so focused on the authentic reason for this ceremony, which is to give thanks and honour all we have.

"Every drum beat will be delivered with love. The dancers will be focused on the purpose of the dance and remember all forms of dance are spiritual in and of itself.”

The tobacco will be prayed with, asking for healing and understanding to be provided for all that have survived the pandemic, he added.

What can people do to stay mentally healthy during this time of COVID-19?

“This COVID time is a time to go back to Creation, sit down and reflect on yourselves. It is a great time to grow personally and better yourself,” he said. “Do your best not to fall over the edge and, if you feel down, reach out and call someone. We all need that connection. Take some time and just give thanks for all you have and that alone can be uplifting.

“It is the natural things that heal us; just watching the ducks float by creates a good feeling in me.”

Benson discussed how Indigenous knowledge teaches that women’s medicine is water; they are life-givers, so to the women reading this, he encouraged to go to the water when you're feeling stressed. It will do some good for you because you are already connected, he said.

The fire in the Indigenous way of knowing is for the men. They have that connection, as well as the ability to get heated (passionate), and so does that fire, but it needs to be guided and reminded to be calm so it does not hurt things.

The suggestion here is for the men to have a small fire and just be with it — create a relationship — and the fire will bring you to a good place. And he reminded those who do not identify themselves with gender-binary terms to go to the medicine that touches your heart and spirit.

“COVID has created a shift in all of us and, when we get back together, we will be in a new place,” said Benson, “and hopefully a better place in our hearts and understanding, respecting and appreciating things so much more and loving with compassion, empathy and truth.”

Strength of Two Buffalo Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,