Story at a glance
- The coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affected Native American communities in the United States, both physically and economically.
- In recent months, tribes have emerged as a success story for vaccinations and begun recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
- Tribes have prioritized vaccinating their elders in order to preserve valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge.
For centuries, Indigenous peoples have fought to preserve their languages and cultures from erasure in textbooks and classrooms.
“The whiter the state, the whiter the curriculum, the whiter the body of teachers, the better the white students do, and the worst everybody else does. We cannot have an educational system that is a white empowerment program, and that’s what we have," Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, told The Guardian.
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So while the vaccine rollout faltered in other parts of the country, tribes were quick to get their elders vaccinated, protecting valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge among a vulnerable population.
“We’ve had devastating losses in terms of speakers, our elders and cultural leaders. It might be a dozen people, which doesn’t seem like a lot to the world. But when you’re an endangered language that’s like, five to 12 versions of a dictionary,” Niiyogaabawiikwe, director of Ojibwe immersion school Waadookodaading, told The Guardian.
Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, especially on reservations, where access to basic resources can be limited and much of the economy is reliant on tourism. Despite historically rooted mistrust in the medical community, many Indigenous communities responded to the pandemic by going into strict lockdowns and maintaining social distancing measures.
In Wisconsin, where schools have begun reopening and some campuses are no longer requiring face masks despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Waadookodaading is staying virtual, despite the challenges remote learning has posed for the community.
“It might take a minute, but the language will come back and it will stay with them,” Behzig Hunter, a fifth grade teacher, told The Guardian. “One thing Ojibwe know how to do is survive. And that’s what we’re doing.”
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