Legend has it that Mersedes Funmaker filled her beaded medical mask with sage and sweetgrass for extra protection.

She didn’t, Funmaker said with a laugh, but she could. 

When the world is working to figure out how to best combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Funmaker, Oneida and Ho-Chunk, and others across Indian Country found a way to make people smile under such a dark cloud that has no end in sight. Even under the threat of the coronavirus, humor in Indian Country remains undefeated.

Native humor and laughter is a part of her culture, Funmaker said. Native humor tends to find a way through any crack, especially during times of uncertainty.

With the coronavirus leading the news and social media and medical face masks in hot demand, Funmaker spent about two hours one recent night beading the front of a facemask after her mom half-jokingly told her to bead it. Shortly after midnight at her home in Oneida, Wisconsin, and after putting color matching makeup, Funmaker posted multiple photos of herself wearing the mask on her Facebook beading page. “Ain’t no coronavirus here!” She wrote. “Yes, Natives really will bead ANYTHING, lol.”

Her post was shared dozens of times and she was even turned into a meme. Funmaker had to clarify on her page the next day that her mask was novelty only and ”NOT CDC approved.” The mask, like her other beadwork is for sale in case anyone is in the market.


“I did it for laughs and I didn’t expect it to kind of blow up,” Funmaker said. “I’m just trying to spread some happiness through the panic, everybody seems to get all serious and can’t take a joke. Some of the Native memes in general on the coronavirus, I’ve belly laughed a couple times.”

Native beading Facebook page Kooteen Creations were the ones to turn Funmaker’s photo into a meme and started the rumor of sage and sweet grass in her mask. “I’ve been memed! Lol thanks Kooteen Creations,” Funmaker said in a meme Facebook share.

The mask would go nicely with Dawn Geimausaddle’s outfit. Geimausaddle posted a photo on March 11 of her in a hazmat-like suit holding a feather fan, shawl and matching beaded crown. “I’m ready to powwow,” she said. “No coronavirus gonna stop me, lol.”


Those Damned Ojibway Boys on Facebook might have one upped Funmaker and Geimausaddle. The Native meme page posted a green hazmat suit with a large helmet with Native designs and the words: Powwow Season 2020.


Maybe a bodysuit isn’t the best way to go. Popular Native meme Facebook page Banaboozhoo posted a meme showing a man listening to his Kookum, or grandma, by putting cedar in his shoes for protection but went even further by covering his entire body. The meme takes a swipe at the hoarding of hand sanitizer.


Navajo artist Eugene Tapahe said his freezer is packed with mutton and pantry is full of spam. He even has old tribal newspapers on hand in case, a gesture to the mass toilet paper hoarding going around.

“Humor is the best medicine; it got our ancestors through much, it will get us through more,” he tweeted.

Native puppet Emery Burningrass has a solution for the lack of toilet paper in stores. In a roughly two-minute video, the puppet gave a tutorial on how to maximize one roll of toilet paper a year by using one ply at a time. “I fold it in fours because everything happens in fours, we all know that,” the puppet said in the video.

Puppet video tutorial.

Without Reservations cartoonist Ricardo Cate, Santo Domingo Pueblo, also got into the coronavirus Native humor. He posted a comic of two Native talking without being worried about the coronavirus. “Whoa. Just wash our hands. Please,” he said in a Facebook post of the comic.

Red lake Ojibwe artist Brian Dow said the coronavirus scare won’t stop him from making people smile with his artwork. He said there are new challenges now with the virus. He said he has stopped shaking hands during his greetings and has plans to wipe down his art frames when he has them on public display. He may even store them and show photos instead to keep the germ free.

“I have to conduct my business much differently now because I go out to public places on a weekly basis and sometimes people touch my frames,” he said. “I will have to find a much more sanitary way to fill that gap when I take my frames off my table and replace with a couple binders that people can look through while my frames are stored in a box, clean and sanitary.”

The coronavirus scare has cancelled spring powwows across Indian Country. Natives React on Facebook may have found a solution in form of virtual powwows. The page posted a short video of a fancy dancer dancing in an empty room to cell phone video recording. It also showed multiple computer screens of other dancers with a powwow emcee voice over.

Snaggin’ of Nations? On March 11, one of the largest powwows around, Gathering of Nations in New Mexico, was postponed. Apparently, the popular April powwow is known in Indian Country for more than its championship dancers and singers.

Journalist and educator Rhonda LeValdo, Acoma Pueblo, posted the powwow tweet. LeValdo, a member of the Indian Country Today Board of Directors, also tweeted that she would help elders living in Lawrence, Kansas. LeValdo is faculty at Haskell Indian Nations. She said she’d go shopping for any elder who is hesitant to shop. The idea, she tweeted, came from Twitter story of someone helping a couple afraid of going into a store.

Ricky Gamino, 20, is doing the same in Phoenix. On March 13, he posted a note on the PHX URBAN NATIVES Facebook page that he and his wife would go shopping for elders avoiding public spaces.

Gamino, Yaqui, Tarahumara and Nahua tribes, moved to Phoenix about five months ago. With elders being more vulnerable to viruses, he wanted to make sure he could help any in need.

“I wanted to put it out there to the public group because I’m serious about this,” he said. “I’m willing to spend my weekend helping to make a difference.

“Our elders are our holders of traditional knowledge and once they pass on, their stories, traditions die with them,” Gamino added.

Tachinii Bushy posted a health tip on Facebook that has about 500 shares. It’s related to burning sage, cedar and sweet grass to counter airborne viruses.

The Navajo Times published a coronavirus info sheet both in English and in Navajo.


The Winslow Indian Health Care Center posted a YouTube video with information in Navajo about the virus,

Not all has been educational or funny in Indian Country.

On her Facebook page, Shirley Kay Sneve, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, asked people to not discriminate. Asian Americans have been targets for hate due to the fear of the coronavirus. Police were called to the University of New Mexico housing after someone covered an Asian American student’s door in plastic and a sign that said, “Caution, Keep Out, Quarantine,” according to a news report.

“We understand that you will want to take care of yourself and your loved ones, but we are hearing about incidents all over the country targeting the Asian American community in connection to COVID-19,” Sneve wrote. “So, as you work to stay save and healthy, please DO NOT make room for discrimination, stereotypes, zenophobia and racism.”

The first tribal nation affected by COVID-19 in Indian Country has faced discrimination related to the virus.

Confederated Tribes of Umatilla in northeastern Oregon temporarily closed its Wildhorse Resort and Casino in early March after a non-tribal citizen casino worker was presumed positive for the coronavirus. The patient continues to be treated at a health facility in Walla Walla County, Washington, about 35 miles north of the reservation. No other cases have been reported on tribal land. The casino was shut down and deep cleaned before re-opening on March 4. The tribe also temporarily closed its education center, community school, daycare facility and senior center.

Not long after the casino briefly closed, two incidents were reported at neighboring Pendleton, Ore. One involved a hotel and another was a pizza parlor. Chuck Sams, Umatilla’s communications director, said the tribe was aware of both incidents. Sams said the hotel posted a sign when the casino closed that said casino guest were not welcomed at the hotel. “They had the sense to take the sign down,” he said. Sams added that the incident “sounds like it had nothing to do with racism and had to do with extra precautions and that they were following the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations.”

Still, the initial message of possible discrimination went around the reservation.

Sams said Domino’s Pizza refused to deliver to the casino to feed cleaning crews when it was closed for cleaning.

The East Oregonian reported that a Domino’s worker said that the delivery would have been completed if the caller clarified that it was for cleaning crews. Initially, Domino’s said it didn’t deliver to closed buildings, according to the report.

A Domino’s worker who answered a phone call asking for clarification by an Indian Country Today reporter on March 10, said they were “done with the whole situation” and to check the East Oregonian report. “This is blown out of proportion, have a great day,” the worker said before abruptly hanging up the phone.

The report quoted a Domino’s manager saying they still deliver on the reservation and that the discrimination accusations against the parlor were serious and planned to talk with an attorney..

“I have an Indian working for me right now,” the manager told the East Oregonian. “If I was to be discriminating against an Indian, do you think I would have an Indian working for me right now? Absolutely not.”

Red Lion Hotel Assistant Manager of Operations Carol Welch said the sign wasn’t aimed at tribal citizens and it was taken down after a day and a half after she contacted CDC for guidance. Welch said her hotel has a good relationship with the casino resort and they often recommend overflow booking to one another. She added that some of her employees have two jobs and the other job is at the resort.

Welch said the sign left out wording that may have clarified the hotel’s intention when screening potential visitors.

“I feel like it’s been grossly misunderstood,” Welch said. “I just want everybody to know that we pride ourself on diverse employees. We have a good relationship with the resort. I would never do anything to jeopardize that.”

Umatilla County Public Health issued a two-page news release on the coronavirus on March 5. It addressed the discimination reports.

“There have been reports of prejudice against people of Asian descent and against members of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, based on unfounded fears that they may be more likely to have the virus,” the news release read. “UCo Health would like to remind Umatilla County residents that you are not at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 based on where you live, recreate or work.”

The presumptive positive case was the first with a direct connection to Indian Country as of March 11. Since then, tribal nations and organizations across the U.S. have canceled or postponed events as a safety measure and some tribal governments have imposed travel restrictions.

Umatilla was still recovering from February’s flood damage when news of the coronavirus hit. In March, the Confederated Umatilla Journal, the tribe’s newspaper, published a special 20-page flood coverage insert that details the damage that caused a state of emergency to be declared.

The tribal government is restricted to essential travel for employees and it has canceled its popular annual youth basketball tournament, Basketball Against Alcohol and Drugs, set for late March. The tournament regularly attracts hundreds of players and dozens of teams.

Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @daltonwalker

COVID-19 coverage from IndianCountryToday.com

Indian Country Today is updating its list of Native events that are cancelled, postponed or affected by COVID-19. To add information, contact our reporter Aliyah Chavez with the name of the event and link to the announcement.


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