For Corrine Sanchez, the Coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity to uphold longstanding practices that keep people healthy and connected, even if they cannot be physically near each other.
The organization she directs, Tewa Women United, has compiled a list of resources to support their communities as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic together. The list centers resources created by Indigneous communities, as well as those relevant to the Tewa homelands, and the Española/Rio Arriba County area.
Anyone with suggestions for additions to the resource list should send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the list website.
It includes health, wellness and safety resources including an essay on how to mitigate stress, herbal medicine, fact sheets for tribes and urban indigenous communities, how to best care for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, and resources for survivors of domestic violence.
Sanchez, of San Ildefonso Pueblo, said the pandemic highlights issues that have always been present.
“In this situation, our families aren’t secure, our partners, our family members are losing jobs,” she said Monday. “The list we have is highlighting the programs and practices that have always existed in our communities that have been helping families and community members through difficult issues.”
For example, Sanchez’s family has continued their practice of using osha, also known as bear root, as a remedy for lung health.
Along with all of the precautions that have become so common during the pandemic like washing hands and maintaining social distancing, the herbal remedy guide referenced in the list recommends boiling bear root into a tea or putting it into a tincture to maintain lung health.
Sanchez said the list is part of a broader response among local organizations like the Española Pathways Shelter, the Breath of my Heart Birthplace and Barrios Unidos. That community response has been made necessary, Sanchez said, because the patchwork of private health care providers in the country have proven unable to properly respond to the health crisis.
“When we think about the countries doing the best job at fighting the virus, they are those that have universal health care systems, that have gone to a place where they can protect everyone, unlike where we’re at today in our U.S. system,” Sanchez said.
With schools across New Mexico closed, many families that would normally be guaranteed two meals per day no longer have that food security, Sanchez said. There is an effort by the Española School District to provide food and the resource list points people toward it.
She also said the required social isolation to slow the spread of the virus in community will lead to an increase in domestic violence and sexual assaults, which are commonly underreported.
“There are now people who aren’t able to go to work, go to school or get outside of the proximity of their perpetrators,” she said. “This situation is highlighting the fact that we’re in isolation together. If your family dynamics and partner dynamics aren’t strong, it’s also a threat.”
Tewa Women United also works with expecting mothers and families, however their doulas are not allowed to go into the hospital because of the pandemic.
“Our doulas are seen as ‘nonessential support,’ when really they are providing critical support for families,” Sanchez said. “That’s been a challenge for us.”
The list collects information about where people can find meals or other family support in the area, unemployment benefits, a sample letter for service workers to send to their landlords about rent, utilities, financial relief funds and support from local credit unions.
It also includes spiritual, emotional and creativity resources like online workshops, classes and virtual meetings.
As with most rural and indigenous communities across what is now called the United States, residents of Northern New Mexico have less access to broadband internet, with often unstable connections, Sanchez said.
Just 18 percent of Rio Arriba County residents have access to broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
This presents a challenge for school districts hoping to implement distance learning but also for anyone looking for resources like Tewa Women United’s list, she said.
The list is also meant to uphold the practice of physical distancing while maintaining a close social bond with others, especially elders in the community. Sanchez said she is grateful her 94-year-old uncle who is suffering from lung issues is still alive, along with her aunt in her 80s who is self-isolating.
“It’s about professing and caring for our loved ones and those most vulnerable in our communities, to make sure were doing our role in that, whether washing hands, wearing face masks, limiting our travel for a cert amount of time,” Sanchez said. “This is something we can definitely do to ensure our elders and loved ones continue to be healthy and we’re not losing people to this disease.”
If the community loses its elders, it will lose a “whole library of knowledge,” she said. And social distancing makes it difficult for her community, where there are very large family gatherings.
“In our tribal communities, every elder is important for the continuing of our language and practices,” Sanchez said. “I pray every day for all our elders in ours and other communities. We really value and honor their life experiences and take care of all of them.”