Overcoming the virus

Patty Talahongva

Shannon Shaw Duty chronicles her recovery from COVID-19 and Mark Trahant speaks on lessons from a census past

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, 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.

Shaw Duty is the editor of the Osage News and she decided to chronicle her journey for Indian Country Today. This is an encore interview with Shannon Shaw Duty. It originally aired on August 31, 2020. 

Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today, looks back at the old Bureau of Indian Affairs Census and asks what are we losing without a detailed record of this decade?

Here are some of Shaw Duty's 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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

Mark Trahant:

"Well, you really see how devastating the census was and they listed it by 10 years and the physician Dr. Wheeler went through and talked about the different diseases that it impacted. Many of them were similar to flu in the sense that they had a pandemic, trachoma, for example.”

“And you could see the years and how different people died and all of a sudden you get to 1919 and 1920, and there's a significant spike in both the number of cases and the number of deaths in the community from the influenza pandemic.”

“I should mention that the way this started is that the National Archives just opened up a huge group of photographs. What they're asking folks is to go through these photographs and look for stories and family members and that sort of thing, then to help tag those photographs with more information and they actually have categories for how you can tag the different pieces of information.”

“Well, I started to do that and as I was just hunting and pecking, I'd put in different family names, different relatives, and start to pop up all of these documents that included not just the photographs that the National Archives was releasing, but the actual BIA Census and they're compiled in decade long documents, very similar to the US Census and what they do is they have really comprehensive looks at a reservation life in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. I didn't go beyond that in this particular, but I was really struck by how detailed the information was.”

“It really got me thinking in the context of the census, how even little bits of information can lead you to other pieces of information.”

“For example, in that record, there was my grandfather, a guy by the name of Fred Trahant. He filed suit against two men and that lawsuit had to go all the way up to the Secretary of the Interior in 1916. And the reason for that is of course, that Indians did not have standing in court in 1916, the citizenship act had not yet been enacted. And so the only way he could file a lawsuit was to actually go through the interior department.”

“So this is a clue, it's just a story that I don't know. And now I definitely want to go back and see if I can find in court records, what that litigation was and where it all led and basically take advantage of that one little clue.”

“Well, I think that the biggest danger of not responding is the really basic nuggets of information. So the census is not very detailed and you're not going to get a lot of stuff 80 years from now, when you go back and look at it, but you will get where people lived, how many people were in the household, some really basic information that you can start to build a narrative.”

“In the 1920 census, for example, I found my great grandfather had two horses and two wagons. I've actually gone back and looked at other family members in the US census and found out where they were living, and I actually looked up one of the addresses and tracked it down. And so there are lots of clues that come from this data that you can use to build your own narrative from your family stories.”

“Well, again, it gives you really an extraordinarily rich record to build on and because of the questions being much more comprehensive about the economy and all of these other sorts of questions. So today you wouldn't have two horses and two wagons, but you might have two cars and knowing that would be the kind of thing that generations from now, people would like to know and just be curious about.”

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