Guest Column: Touch one another with kind words, traditional teachings
By Peterson Zah
This year our holiday celebrations are less than we’ve ever experienced and the restrictions and stress is so devastating.
We must do our part to minimize the spread of the virus that has upended our usual expectations of the holiday season.
We have to be continuously conscious of and follow health guidelines, social distancing, avoiding crowds and wearing masks.
We have people who long for family gatherings, the holidays that bring us together in celebration, where we share food, conversation and good times. Now we must postpone or cancel those kinds of events.
That’s easier said than done. I do not like it either but we must be diligent in our effort to at least control the disease.
In the counties and states surrounding and including the Navajo Nation, we have seen test results that are so high it’s scary. But if we all do our part, we can have a major impact on our land. Remember K’e starts at home with us.
So it is a scaled back, low-key holiday season for us all. This means a spiritual Thanksgiving, in which we give thanks for our families, our children, our grandpas and grandmas, and the little ones.
Christmas is also a holiday for the communities. New Year’s is everyone’s celebration. We all enjoyed these days with our friends and families. This year is no different.
We are still together and we can still reach out to one another. We can still embrace. It may not be face to face, but we can still reach out and touch one another with some kind words of love and appreciation.
We must all practice what our ancestors taught us. As we now know, the Indigenous people are the kindest, most good-hearted people that humanity has ever seen throughout the world. Behind the stories of war and slavery are the truths of neighbors helping neighbors, tribes helping tribes, human beings giving a helping hand to others in need.
Unfortunately, the newcomers took advantage of our spirit of cooperation and sharing to benefit themselves. As a result, Indigenous peoples lost our land and livelihoods. So many were wiped off the earth.
We should not follow that example. We should continue to promote peace, kindness, love and respect for our differences and other cultures. That leads to an understanding of resilience and self-reliance we shared with others.
We brought a strong spirituality and created a society that had central values that were good. That was the teaching of our people.
I believe we should talk about these teachings and their values. The virus is testing our patience and how we deal with adversity. But we always overcame adversity. In the past we were challenged by tuberculosis, the Spanish flu, livestock reduction, the Long Walk, the Hantavirus and others. We managed to overcome those challenges because of resiliency. We survived.
With the Long Walk, many of our people, as a group, as a family, were at Hwééldi for four years. Imagine what they went through each day, week and month. Yet, today, we have been in this situation for nine months and some people get upset when we are told what to do by our government.
But there is always hope. Vaccines are being developed for the virus. That’s positive, knowing that’s on the horizon. That should make us feel better, hopeful for the future.
After COVID-19 we still have some outstanding challenges in education, economic development, creating water infrastructure and producing safe drinking water for our people.
In addition, attacking the need to clean up over 500 uranium sites on our land so that communities are safe and free of uranium contamination that affects almost every family. The health impacts of exposure are spinning out of control and need to be addressed effectively with all available resources.
The federal government needs to take a greater responsibility because this is partly their doing by allowing the extraction of uranium during the Cold War and not forcing corporations/companies to clean up their mess.
I am still thankful and hopeful this holiday as we witnessed the activism of our young, educated Navajo and Native people making a huge difference at the local, state and federal elections. The impact they made is beyond expectation and belief.
This movement is real in Indian Country everywhere and it can only mean there are better days ahead that will secure our future.
We are beginning to “grow our own” and produce engineers, medical doctors, school administrators, nurses, environmentalists, planners, community leaders, etc. The influx of these warriors is what we always dreamed about and has finally arrived.
Please continue to practice the guidelines and protocols. Take care of your loved ones at home. Stay away from large gatherings.
When we are back to normal, we will be thankful for the resiliency we have shown. This virus is difficult and we have lost many of our people, our elders.
But there is always hope. Positive things are happening. This is as our ancestors have taught us, and it is still true.
Peterson Zah is former chairman and the first president of the Navajo Nation, as well as former director of DNA-People’s Legal Services.