Life on the Navajo Reservation During COVID-19

InstitutionsHolbrook Indian SchoolLife on the Navajo Reservation During COVID-19

By Starla and Isis, with Nicole Potgieter

The coronavirus pandemic is having a very real effect on our students and their families— some of them have even tested positive for the virus. We are doing our best to keep in contact with our students and make sure they are staying well.
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Isis, a senior at HIS, and her mother, Starla, via email. They shared how COVID-19 has affected their lives and what they are doing to help their community.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your family?
Isis: Coronavirus has impacted my family members far and near. It affected different plans that we had and yearly celebrations. I am not able to visit or hug my great Masani (great-grandmother), Frances Nez, because she is at high risk—I can only see her through a window. Our family is so close, and it’s hard not being able to hug anyone. I really miss hanging out with family and traveling.
Now I am staying home and taking care of our livestock, learning new hobbies, tutoring my little sisters, and helping my nana and mom where I can. I am learning more than I ever did (especially about sewing and cooking). I have loved learning about traditional herbs and how they could help coronavirus patients. The knowledge being taught to me was passed down from generation to generation.
Starla: This virus has affected our family tremendously. We can’t visit or hug each other, but our bond has become stronger. We are each other’s support system, making sure each family member has enough necessities. It hurts that my daughters can’t visit their great Masani, because she is the teacher of our family. She’s our strength, courage, happiness—and our greatest, most precious treasure. Our youngest baby, Kai Nizhonibah, is having a tough time adjusting to not spending weekends with great Masani and her mommy Kim or mommy Gerrilene. We explain to our children the situation and offer comfort.
This is the first time Isis has really stayed home since she started school at HIS. She has more chores in caring for our livestock (flock of sheep, donkey, and dogs). She’s adjusting to the hard work of sheering, hoof trimmings, vaccinations, herding sheep, feeding orphan lambs, tending to an adopted ewe with a broken leg, mending fences, and keeping the feeding schedule for our sheep dogs and her Husky. She helps maintain the landscape around the house to prevent fire hazards and snakes. Isis also helps by tutoring her little sisters, especially Lulu, who is autistic.
Our household has underlying health conditions, and it has become so much more stressful going into public to run essential errands. My husband and I are blessed to still have employment. We are essential workers, but that adds more stress to our daily lives; we worry about bringing the tiny monster into our home where our children and mother are safely sheltering. There isn’t a night that goes by that I don’t pray for the world, especially our people.

What projects is Isis currently involved in?
Starla: Isis has always been an active community member. She has great respect for veterans and active servicemen/women. We have many veterans in our family and are very proud of them. When she heard that COVID-19 showed its ugly face among our people, she quickly asked her nana, Martha Nez, to teach her to sew so she could make some masks for the local veterans. She has also donated cinnamon rolls and tamales to local veteran and civilian volunteers who are assisting different outreach programs.

The masks are ready to be mailed off. (Bottom) Looking for herbs in the desert.

How many masks have you sewn, and where have they been sent?
Isis: The local chapter house found out I was sewing masks, and they ordered 200 masks for the community. I have sewn over 500 masks and shipped them to different parts of the Reservation, Mexico, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, and New Mexico. People will reach out to my mom or nana, and I sew however many are ordered. I am still sewing masks. My mom carries them with her so that if she sees people who need them, she can give them masks. Sometimes, my mom sees elderly people without masks, and I would feel bad if I couldn’t provide one for them because we are supposed to protect the elderly and children the most.


How are these projects affecting your community?
Isis: My mom told me that she sees a lot of people wearing the masks in stores. The Navajo Nation and New Mexico passed legislation stating you must wear a mask in public. Some people don’t know how to sew or get materials for masks. I am happy to know that I can provide masks and that it could possibly save a person or a family from COVID-19. I just want my family and others to be safe.
We are so proud of Isis and everything she is doing to make a difference! The Navajo Nation has the highest per capita infection rate for COVID-19 in the United States. Please join us in keeping our precious students and the Navajo Nation in your prayers.
As we slowly move from quarantine to routine, will Holbrook Indian School be here when our students return? With your help, YES! It’s been nearly 75 years since HIS opened its campus to serve Native American children and youth. Let’s make it another 75!

(Left) Lulu and Isis doing schoolwork. (Middle) Isis makes cinnamon rolls for local volunteers. (Right) Isis with the herbs she collected.

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