Decolonizing Health II: Community Efforts in Abya Yala

#WasipiSakiri. Foto: RadioIluman

#WasipiSakiri. Foto: Radio Iluman

Slowly we perceive―like the rising of the river when it comes down from the mountain―that the rain at the top of the summit hasn’t ceded, and that we must prepare for the sudden flow. After the initial storm, like the soft roots that creep between the stones until they are broken, ideas, actions, and the historical strength of the indigenous peoples arise.

Indigenous peoples are making community efforts to prepare, confront and overcome together the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below we present, as examples, just a few of these initiatives:

A webinar was held between indigenous doctors from Canada and the United States, to share knowledge, ideas and preventive measures, with the participation of Waasakom and Eriel Tchekwie Deranger as moderators. E. Isaac Murdoch, James Makokis, Nitanis Desjarlais, and Jeff Wastisicoot as participants. “Our goal is to show that the healing of indigenous lands and peoples must be done together.”

Families practicing social distancing have made a call to perform and share virtual Healing Dances, with a message of collective hope. The messages, the videos, the efforts are moving, full of love and wisdom.

Nosotros seguimos produciendo tus alimentos

Foto: Vía Campesina

In organized efforts, we have for example, the #WasipiSakiri (#Stayhome in Kichwa) of Ecuador and Colombia, which called on self-organized forms of protection for the community, promoted by indigenous media.

Indigenous agricultural producers in the Andes are defending food sovereignty and seek to develop conditions to continue the production of basic foods for the region. They understand their work is a matter of national security, since the food chain of large cities depend on their work, and are demanding governments greater support.

“The effort made by rural women and men is vital, but unfortunately little or nothing of value is being done by the government. It is essential that we have an important agricultural and livestock fabric in our society that allows us to face with greater resilience to any crisis, including the crisis that we are going through now,” says Antolín Huáscar of the National Agrarian Confederation of Peru, in a call by made by Vía Campesina about the vulnerability of campesinos.

In the same vein, the indigenous prefecture of Azuay, Ecuador, established a distribution system of organic food, produced locally by indigenous and campesino farmers, under a safe, hygienic home delivery system to keep the population from going out grocery shopping. This strategy promotes the strengthening of the local economy, the defense of food sovereignty, as well as an effective way to prevent the pandemic.

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At the micro-local level, each Nation is taking measures according to their traditions and beliefs. The matrilineal Wiwa people of Colombia, called the Arhuacos or Ikas, Wiwas, Koguis and Kankuamo, have stopped calling the virus by its name, as a way of not invoking it. The sagas (women) are preparing Rituals of Silence in the Ezwamas (sacred sites) in connection with the Pachamama, with prickly pear, pichiwey, cardón, cacho de cabra, esplo de gallo, iguana vine, ceiba and cactus, except for medicinal plants such as lemon, grapefruit and tangerine, used to strengthen the immune system of the community.

The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, also in Colombia, called for the closure of the borders of indigenous areas under its responsibility. They are calling to strengthen the community barter system, not to buy in department stores, and calling for the use of family medicinal gardens.

The Amazonian peoples of Brazil fighting against genocidal state policies, have tried to organize community responses to confront the virus under an authoritarian regime, and send a clear message:

We must not forget that diseases like this were what decimated part of the indigenous peoples in Brazil, but racism is so stark and giant that this reality is made invisible. We exist today because some people isolated themselves from colonizers and their diseases, and protected themselves with their own indigenous sciences! #ficanaaldeia

Instrucciones para cuidarse del coronavirus

Foto: Mujeres Amazónicas Defensoras de la Selva

The slow but sustained effort to return to traditional medicine, the use of medicinal herbs, and less dependence on the pharmaceutical industry, are generating processes of community self-help. Indigenous communities in remote places, such as the Amazonian Women Defenders of the Jungle, are creating their own bilingual materials to inform the people how to avoid getting sick and promoting herbal remedies to boost the immune system.

Indigenous organizations from Mesoamerica, from the Yucatan peninsula to Guatemala, passing through Chiapas, are organizing and planning their own methods of resistance.

The Zapatista communities, for example, decided also to close their borders in an act of sovereignty, “We call not to lose human contact, but to temporarily change the ways to know ourselves, compañeras, compañeros, sisters, brothers …”

COPINH in Honduras made a call for cacerolazos against the government’s inaction in the face of the crisis, accusing them of placing military investments above the health of its citizens: “We are at home but in rebellion against the regime. We will not remain silent.”

Different concerns, different times, different solutions, but information is opening up, little by little, to try to help build an idea that the life, hope and the extensive resilient experience of indigenous peoples will help us find pools of wisdom while we wait for the storm to pass, in the arms of the Pachamama.