Dear colleagues, clients, and friends of JFK,
Adjusting to a time of pandemic challenges us all in so many ways.
Here at JFK, we have been particularly concerned about the ways the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the Indigenous communities we serve. And we are especially alarmed by how this pandemic is affecting and will affect Indigenous elders. We know that Indigenous elders are more than beloved relatives, friends, chiefs, and community leaders. Elders are pillars of Indigenous communities, keepers of precious cultural and ancestral knowledge, spiritual teachers, stewards of the land, oral historians, and some of the few remaining speakers of endangered Indigenous languages.
We humbly suggest the following short video from the First Nations Health Authority, which offers some advice about managing the anxiety and stress of the pandemic when also living with intergenerational trauma. It recommends positive coping behaviours that may assist you in finding mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance.
We also share the timely words of Anishanaabe writer Waubgeshig Rice, from his brilliant work of speculative fiction, Moon of the Crusted Snow. This passage speaks to the resilience, strength, and perspective of the elders, and to the enduring survival of all Indigenous people. In this scene from the novel, Aileen, an Anishanaabe elder, is in conversation with a young man in her remote northern community following dramatic events in settler cities in the south:
“They say that this is the end of the world. The power’s out and we’ve run out of gas and no one’s come up from down south. They say the food is running out and that we’re in danger. There’s a word they say too – ah…pock…ah…”
“Yes, apocalypse! What a silly word. I can tell you there’s no word like that in Ojibwe. Well, I never heard a word like that from my elders, anyway.”
Evan nodded, giving the elder his full attention.
“The world isn’t ending,” she went on. “Our world isn’t ending. It already ended when the Zhaagnaash came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us. That was our world. When the Zhaagnaash cut down all the trees and fished all the fish and forced us out of there, that’s when our world ended. They made us come all the way up here. This is not our homeland. But we had to adapt and luckily we already knew how to hunt and live on the land. We learned to live here.”
She became more animated as she went on. Her small hands swayed as she emphasized the words she wanted to highlight. “But then they followed us up here and started taking our children away from us! That’s when our world ended again. And that wasn’t the last time. We’ve seen what this…what’s the word again?”
“Yes, apocalypse. We’ve had that over and over. But we always survived. We’re still here. And we’ll still be here, even if the power and the radios don’t come back on and we never see any white people ever again.”
Evan gazed back down to the table. He felt his shoulders ease and his chest open up. He was tired, but she gave him hope.