The COVID-19 pandemic brought uncertainty and fear to everyone. It is no surprise that many people all over the world experience anxiety one way or another in response to the pandemic.
As for me, I have suffered anxiety since I was young, and it became more severe since the pandemic began. It is from a tangled mess of worries rooted by current events. I worry about my family who went back to my childhood hometown about a year ago. I worry about my friends near and far from me, including my friends who are also members of my tribe, The Chickasaw Nation. I had to adjust from in-person classes to distance learning, which I found more unnerving and draining.
As a Native American who is also a recent Public Health graduate, I am aware of the interventions meant to protect other people, such as mask mandates, social distancing, and campaigns to increase hand washing. Some of these interventions are met with intense debates. These debates sparked protests and even resorting to physical violence when shop employees ask them to wear masks.
Seeing videos of these interactions and reading stories about them on social media always made my heart race and my palms to sweat. I fear for the vulnerable people who could be exposed by COVID-19 thanks to people preferring to put personal freedom over simple acts of courtesy.
Specifically, I fret over the Indigenous People who suffered significant effects from the pandemic. The Indigenous People have experienced the same anxiety I have faced every day, and it is even worse for them. There is no telling how they will make it through the long winters when the pandemic shuttered businesses that relied on powwows during the warmer months and clientele for tribally owned casinos dwindled. On top of this mountain of worries, the Indigenous People have little opportunity in having a voice about their experiences and a place at the table for developing policies and plans for action when they have so much to offer.
Yet despite the anxiety I face every day during the pandemic, I also have hope in my heart. I have seen Indigenous communities come together on social media from across the United States and even the world to support each other through these tough times. These groups and projects meant to show the world the Indigenous voices give me hope that despite the fears we do not have to face them alone.
My tribe, the Chickasaws, has a motto which is “Unconquered and Unconquerable” after never losing in a battle. The pandemic is like a battle we all faced. It is scary, and the outcome is unknown, but we have faced the impossible with centuries of colonialization. We survived. We survived and we are stronger than ever because we stand together. That makes not only the Chickasaws the unconquered and unconquerable. It makes all Indigenous People unconquered and unconquerable.
Cherokee Durant is a member of the Chickasaw tribe originating from Ada, Okla. She currently resides in North Dakota, where she received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Mayville (N.D.) State University in 2017 and her master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University in 2020. She is currently studying for her Ph.D. in Indigenous health at University of North Dakota. Cherokee’s interest is researching infectious diseases, but she also has a background in cultural competence in healthcare professions, international perspectives of health and health disparities affecting vulnerable populations.