A COVID-19 lesson: Never take your family or your community for granted

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today Newscast for Monday, August 31 with guest Shannon Shaw Duty and her recovery from COVID-19 and national correspondent Joaqlin Estus on subsistence hunting in Alaska.

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

A family vacation isn't the best time to find out you've tested positive for COVID-19 but that's what happened to Shannon Shaw Duty.  

She and her husband and their six children had just arrived in Colorado when she got the news. They made the decision to turn around and drive back to Oklahoma so she could quarantine. 

Shannon is the editor of the Osage News and she decided to chronicle her journey for Indian Country Today. 

Here are some of her comments: 

"I am doing really well. I have fully recovered from having COVID-19. I am very fortunate and I only had mild symptoms."

"We were having lunch in Georgetown, Colorado. It's nestled right in the mountains, very picturesque right along the lake we were having lunch and I got a call from the clinic's contact tracer who told me that I had tested positive."

"So when I told my kids that I had tested positive first, they were scared for me, they know the dangers of COVID-19 and we've talked very much about how Native Americans are susceptible to COVID-19 and how it could affect us differently. So it was a shock that I caught it because I've been diligent and wearing a mask and sanitizing it, et cetera."

"After the initial shock they were scared for my health, then we had to decide, should we go home? But after a discussion with my husband and our oldest kids we felt it was irresponsible for us to keep vacationing because we could put the cleaning staff or the people staying in the Airbnb, we had booked, after us in jeopardy."

"And so we felt it was the responsible thing to turn around and go home. Even though we had been in our family's van, me and my husband and our six children for 10 hours, we turned around and we drove the 10 hours back and got home at 4:30 in the morning."

"They could not pinpoint where I picked up the virus. Everyone that I had come into contact 72 hours beforehand, they contacted all of them. They tested them and they couldn't tell me whether they tested negative or positive, but they just said every place that I had gone and they had no trace of where I could have picked it up because there were no outbreaks anywhere. So they just attributed it to possibly community spread."

"I will never know. You know me and my husband talk about this frequently and even to this day, it just boggles my mind about where I got it. And I just all we can do is keep being careful and be as safe as possible still."

"It is allergy season in Oklahoma and so I just thought that I was just having allergies and I did have a slight headache and I felt like a cold was coming on possibly but I just assumed it was allergies. And that's how I felt at the time.

"They stayed the same for the first, I would say seven to eight days. I had kept in contact with the contact tracer every day and the news I was getting back and providing to them, they were just like, well, maybe you'll be out in 10 days, you know? But, on that ninth day I got worse and additional symptoms came on and I was in bed and feeling poorly and sleeping most of the day." 

"My older kids were great, you know, my two oldest, they helped out with my husband with the cooking and the cleaning and disinfecting of the house. And, so I knew that they had that covered. They are 16 and 14." 

"Then my 13 and 12 year old, they went about business as usual but they would stop at the door and talk to me from time to time and just ask how I was or what I was doing, what I was watching. And they were just generally curious and they said they missed me."

"And then my two youngest are nine and seven. And my nine year old took it a little bit better than my seven year old but still he almost, every day I would say starting after the sixth day, he was getting tired of me being in my room."

"He started to really, 'Why can't you come out?' And, 'you don't seem like you're sick,' you know? But my seven year old was, he was upset from day one and he started playing outside my door and I could hear him. And sometimes I could hear him breathing outside the door...and I tell him, you know, Charles, you need to go play in your room and he'd say, he misses me."

"I'm just very thankful and grateful and humbled by the community's response. Never really know how much people care about you and your family...and then they just brought food. Cause they knew we had six children to feed and my husband, God bless him, but we can only eat hot dogs and macaroni and cheese so many times. They literally just brought banquets of food all the time."

"Being in quarantine, I had a lot of time to think and I looked forward to writing this every day. It was something to look forward to. And so I took that as a time to write about our Osage history, our Osage, good ways of treating one another and our culture our food, our history. It was just a time to reflect on all of that. And it was, it was really fun."

"The biggest lesson I have learned is that, never take your family for granted and don't take your community for granted and your tribe because just their understanding and their compassion for us it was just really, it made me cry."

"I would sit in my room and I would think about all of these things that they had said, cause they would post under my daily posts and how they were praying. And I would get messages about how they were praying and text messages and just different compliments on my family and the gifts were, it just really made me feel that I need to remember myself that in order to live this way of life, I have to give this back and my children saw it. And I was very grateful that my children saw our Osage people coming to their aid, taking care of them, taking care of their mother."

"The lessons learned from that as well from our whole family. If we see any member of the community, my children will know that we need to go take care of them. We need to help them. And that is a very Osage thing to do is to give. Not that I had forgotten it but I had never fully experienced it like this."

"And there was so much love involved and it really warmed my heart and I can barely talk about it without crying."

"It's very important to quarantine yourself. It is so important. And when you come out of your room, you need to wear your mask. And whenever you use the restroom, any place where you go, you need to disinfect after you leave to keep that virus away from your family, it is also important to buy an oximeter. You need to watch your oxygen levels every day. You need to take your vitamins every day and drink your water."

Here are some comments from Joaqlin Estus

"Gathering food from nature is called subsistence here. There's sports hunting and fishing and then subsistence and for Alaska Natives subsistence is absolutely fundamental culturally and economically. Not only is there learning from elders about the natural world and wildlife, subsistence is a worldview. It's about respecting animals and nature and sharing food with your family and community."

"Our lives revolve around what's going on -- when the fish are spawning, when the animals are migrating, which plants are ripe. And it's important economically, especially in rural Alaska because store-bought food, brought into villages from urban centers is so expensive. The cost of living in rural Alaska is really high between the cost of energy and housing. Even if you had a good job, it would be hard to live there without subsistence."

"Alaskans have been wrangling over fish and game for decades and as the population grows, there's been more competition between commercial, sport, and subsistence [uses]. And this has played out in the homelands of the Ahtna Athabaskan people in eastern interior Alaska. That's because it's accessible by road from Anchorage and Fairbanks."

"Thousands of hunters from Anchorage and Fairbanks drive into that region and hunt for moose and caribou...herd numbers in the tens of the thousands. So the thing is that with all those people going there, locals say that the fall hunting season is just a circus. There's not enough law enforcement. People show up and they leave trash and human waste around. They cut down trees for firewood, target practice. They leave broken glass around."

"And because they're on the highways, the wildlife moves away from the roads, which makes it more challenging for local hunters. And the law here says that subsistence takes priority over commercial and sports hunting and fishing."

"In July, the Federal Subsistence Board closed an area called game management unit 13, sections A and B. The federal subsistence board closed those areas except to hunters the board has determined have customary and traditional use of moose and caribou. And the reasons they gave are that there's overcrowding, they're disrupting subsistence hunts, and there are safety concerns."

"So the state filed suit against the board. The state says there are enough moose and plenty of caribou so conservation isn't an issue. And the state said federal and state laws don't allow for closures due to public safety or too much competition. 

Except for governor Bill Walker, who lost to the current governor Mike Dunleavy in 2018, governor after governor has fought subsistence with lawsuits."

"And last week, six Alaska Native organizations issued a statement saying the state, once again, threatens the health and wellbeing of Alaska Natives who harvest for their families and communities as a cultural, spiritual, nutritional and physical practice as they have for thousands of years on their homelands."

"There's a wildlife resource commission in the region and they're going to be meeting and they'll probably come out with a statement soon."

"Ahtna region really stands out for the level of cooperation between the for-profit regional corporation that was created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the tribes. In fact, the tribes joined, they have merged with Ahtna Regional Corporation. And so what that's done is it's brought the resources of the corporation into the battle over subsistence. In other parts of the state that battle for subsistence falls more on the tribes than on the corporations."

Also in the newscast, Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest positive COVID-19 test numbers in Indian Country. 

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