Reflections on the pandemic by Poli Joshevama
It has been an incredible privilege for NAYA’s Health Equity program, alongside the Future Generations Collaborative, to support Portland’s urban Indigenous community during the COVID-19 pandemic. From testing to vaccinations and wraparound support, our team worked diligently to ensure that our community was safe and healthy.
We started our testing events at NAYA in 2020 (causing the first nosebleeds due to those PCR testing swabs!) When a vaccination became available, we began offering clinics throughout the community in early 2021. Once we got the ball rolling, we didn’t stop at COVID vaccinations–we also distributed flu and MPOX vaccinations. Overall, we provided more than 844 PCR tests, 298 flu vaccinations, 94 MPOX vaccinations, and the number everyone has been waiting to hear, 5,395 COVID vaccinations!
Beyond assisting at vaccination clinics, our Community Health Workers provided wraparound support to our community members exposed to and/or stricken with the COVID-19 virus. This support included helping families with rent, utilities, and groceries while they healed in quarantine.
Words cannot describe how we felt when our community shared their cries of relief with us, learning that they wouldn’t have to exert themselves to get groceries, or force themselves to work to pay bills, while suffering from this dangerous virus. This still doesn’t encompass how meaningful these services have been to everyone who has passed through our program. Each of the 2,100 referrals processed through our isolation support forms and through Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington Counties mattered!
One sentiment that has been echoed by those who have received our services is their appreciation that assistance is coming from fellow Indigenous people. Knowing that the person on the other side of the phone call is from your community and shares the same values is priceless. We were able to provide access to traditional foods and medicines so they could heal faster, and traditional games to keep them engaged while in quarantine. We also listened to their concerns during our check-ins and made referrals to other social and health services for them. We offered virtual cooking classes, delivering ingredients to families stuck at home, to keep them safely connected to culture.
Through peer counseling, huckleberry jam classes, and the distribution of sage and cedar bundles, our Community Health Workers responded to the physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of our community. Being able to gift traditional medicines during an Indigenous person’s time of crisis was a powerful way to bring us back to our roots in resilience and the power of all available medicines.
We have all experienced grief and change during this pandemic. Whether it is from the loss of a loved one, the loss of our abilities, or even just getting used to a new normal, these past few years have been a distinctive moment in our personal and collective histories.
In closing, we ask that you not forget our most at-risk community members, our Elders–our knowledge keepers–and those with compromised immune systems by continuing to use at-home tests, wear a mask in public when recovering from a respiratory illness, and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. This is how we live out our saying “for the love of our community.” Please continue to check in on each other, care for each other and remember that NAYA is here as a support.
Asqwali! Ahe’hee! Pilamiya! Kw’alanu’ushamatash! Yakoke!
Thank you from the Quaran-Team, aka the NAYA Health Equity team, and the Future Generations Collaborative