• Tribes Team

Time Tested Traditional Tribal Tools against the coronavirus

Updated: Mar 3

By Kaitlyn Benally and Tony Skrelunas

Healing through traditional methods

Many of you have questions about the pandemic and it seems the more you read and research, the more confused you get. What do we do to stay safe? What are the best ways to strengthen our immune system?How do we prepare if someone in our family, household, or we catch the virus? How do we take care of someone in our family? And how do we treat it using tools from our own traditional healing traditions?


The intent of this article is to shed some light to these questions. We decided to come at it more from the traditional naturopathic traditions that incorporate tools that have been used for thousands of years among our peoples.


The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has run rampage on the Navajo Nation causing devastation and sadness in its path. Now that the virus has been with us for a year we have learned a few things. First, important for this article, is that our traditional medicinal practices still practiced by our tribal peoples for centuries hold some tools to deal with the virus.


For example, the tribes of the Americas have identified over 200 plants, tested by tribal scientists for thousands of years to heal which has contributed to our world’s medicines. Tribal elders have successfully dealt with the pandemic of most recent memory of the early 1900s using these medicines and methods.

Some that show immediate promise are those created by tribal practitioners. They collect herbs with proper prayer, intent, and offering. They mix these herbs in the right proportions. They then give us instructions on how to use it, boiling it and letting the steam fill our homes, sipping and sharing with our family for protection. Key ingredients include sage, cedar, pine, and other plants as prescribed by the practitioner. Many tribes use sage within most ceremonies and only recently was it discovered to clean 94% of the air from viruses and maintain that protection for days out.


Many tribes also promote outdoor activity, running, and being outside. This is critical to gain vitamin D. As tribal peoples we have darker skin and many of our people do not get enough sunlight or outdoor fresh air. What's alarming is that current statistics show that over 80% of patients that end up being hospitalized from coronavirus infections show vitamin D deficiency. A high proportion of these patients are darker skinned. Sunlight give us vitamin D. With our darker skin types, we actually need more time in the sun that the lighter skinned brethren. Fresh air is critical along with sunlight and were used to deal with the pandemic of the early 1900s.

Many of our tribes also used heat through traditional sweat lodge ceremony to heal and mitigate viruses affect on the body. This is an important tool that has been heavily tested and shown to be highly effective. The video discussion below shares a bit of how important heating up the body is. As the video shares, a doctor in the 1900s used to infect patients with malaria to create the fever necessary to kill viruses before the invention of

penicillin.

Another important tool is making sure that we are of strong mind. We are taught to always think positive thoughts even in the biggest storms. This is so important that we have ceremonies to correct our thoughts and bring us back to positivity. It has been found that positive mindset is critical and that many patients have as much as 50% decrease in their immunity just from their mental response to a bad prognosis or stress. Mindset is critical and we have seen many of our peoples effectively fight the virus using a positive mindset in the midst of the storm. What can we learn from their experience: First of all, you must not give up and let the virus overcome you. To do this, continue moving your body even though you want to just lay down and rest. Deep breathing exercises are also beneficial to calm your mind and help open your lungs. Another practice is to boil sage and cedar, pour the mixture into a bowl, put a towel over your head to trap the steam, lean over the bowl, and breathe in the steam. This is similar to the Native American sweat lodge ceremony. Then, when the mixture is warm enough, drink a cup to help cleanse your body of the virus. Cedar and sage are medicinal plants our ancestors have used and are still using to this day. Cedar has been used to treat fevers, chest colds, and flu-like symptoms. It also contains a large amount of vitamin C. Sage is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Drinking our traditionally gathered tea with raw honey is also beneficial. It alleviates joint pain, calms upset stomachs, calms sore throats, and promotes healthy kidney function. Lastly, positive thinking can help with recovery. Think constantly that you will overcome the virus and not give up.


An important and touchy topic that must be addressed is how we deal with the loss of loved ones. Many of our grandparents used to teach and say “do not miss the lost of loved ones as you do not want to get yourself sick which will help no one”. Our elders advise us to not mourn at all and some not more than a few days, 4 days among some Navajo for example, and then to move on with life. Some tribes traditionally did not have funerals instead having a two mature men bury the body while a small mourning took place by the family. The men would then cleanse themselves sometimes over several days. The mourning would take place using traditional verbal uplifting and memories. For the lost of elders, many tribes advise that an elder who has lived a good life should be celebrated and not mourned. This is obviously a very sensitive subject today. So its important for our elders to advise new generations during these critical times as we as five fingered earth beings, what the Navajos traditionally call themselves, havent experienced something like this in over 100 years.


There are many mitigation efforts we can practice to control the spread of this disease. We can implement the widely recommended prevention measures such as properly covering your mouth and nose with a mask, frequently washing your hands for 20 seconds or using a 70% alcohol hand sanitizer, putting 6 feet between yourself and other people, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Additionally, we can build our immune systems and refer to old time Native American remedies to help battle this disease.


It is important to take care of your mind and body. Mental health problems are common, especially now with the additional stress of the coronavirus. Fear and anxiety about the disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both children and adults. Stress caused by COVID-19 can lead to changes in sleep or eating patterns, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems or mental health conditions, or increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other substances. The disease can also bring fear and worry about your own health and the health of loved ones, your financial situation or job security, or the loss of support services you rely on. All of these issues can wreak havoc on your body and mind if not taken care of. There are ways to cope with these issues in a healthy way to help you and the people you care about stronger.


Reducing stress and developing good coping mechanisms can do a load of wonders for your body. It is important to know where and how to get treatment along with other support services and resources including counseling or therapy. Taking care of your emotional health will help you to think clearly and immediately react to situations to protect yourself and your family. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. So, it is important to take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories including the ones on social media. You can also include activities in your daily life that can help you handle stress. For instance, talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling as there are many ways to connect with them virtually or simply by talking on the phone. Going outside, getting fresh air, and feeling the sun on your skin for at least 30 minutes is beneficial because sunlight triggers the skin to make vitamin D. Taking deep breaths, stretching, or practicing meditation can enhance overall health as it focuses on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. Make time to unwind and try to do other activities you enjoy such as creating art or other hobbies. Mental health is an important part of your well-being, so it is necessary to take good care of it along with your body.


We need our body’s defenses to be as strong as possible. Our immune system is not a single unit, but consists of many parts that can be strengthened to fight off diseases. Immune strengthening strategies include exercising regularly, experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. As Navajos, our elders have told us to run to the east early in the morning to greet the gods and receive blessings. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables is best for nourishing your body. This can include blue corn mush, steam corn, pinions, kneel down bread, vegetable stew, and many other traditional foods. Maintaining a healthy weight and aiming for a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or lower helps reduce stress on your body. Getting quality sleep can be challenging, but setting a schedule and routine can help to practice good sleep hygiene.


In addition to these lifestyle and behavior practices, it is recommended to take vitamin supplements in moderation to keep the immune system functioning at its best. Vitamin C may help prevent viral, bacterial and other infections by shortening the duration of colds and acts as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. Vitamin D is an important immune system strengthening nutrients that can reduce the risk of colds and flu. Vitamin A can help support the body’s ability to fight infections, especially respiratory infections. Zinc can help reduce the number of infections and the duration of a cold when taken within 24 hours of onset. Selenium is a key nutrient for immune function and is an antioxidant. Raw honey is good at relieving minor pain and inflammation of mucous membranes, and has antioxidant properties along with microbial properties. Probiotics contain good bacteria that support gut health and influence the function and regulation of the immune system. Many of these vitamins can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, buttermilk, and some cheeses. That’s why it is crucial to include a wide variety of healthy foods daily in your eating habits.


What happens if you catch the virus? For most people, COVID-19 will cause mild illness. However, it can make some people very ill, and in some people, it can be fatal. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache, and loss of taste or smell. Typically, a person develops symptoms 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as late as 14 days after infection.


You probably know someone who has gotten COVID-19. It can be scary, but we must remain strong for them. There are some Native American remedies that have helped fight the virus and helped some people recover. First of all, you must not give up and let the virus overcome you. To do this, continue moving your body even though you want to just lay down and rest. Deep breathing exercises are also beneficial to calm your mind and help open your lungs. Another practice is to boil sage and cedar, pour the mixture into a bowl, put a towel over your head to trap the steam, lean over the bowl, and breathe in the steam. This is similar to the Native American sweat lodge ceremony. Then, when the mixture is warm enough, drink a cup to help cleanse your body of the virus. Cedar and sage are medicinal plants our ancestors have used and are still using to this day. Cedar has been used to treat fevers, chest colds, and flu-like symptoms. It also contains a large amount of vitamin C. Sage is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Drinking Navajo tea with raw honey is also beneficial. It alleviates joint pain, calms upset stomachs, calms sore throats, and promotes healthy kidney function. Lastly, positive thinking can help with recovery. Thinking that you will overcome the virus and not give up.


As you can see, this is but a small set of tools of what we have in our traditional and modern medicine arsenal. We pray that you and your family are safe, know that you and we as peoples will overcome just as our ancestors overcame the biggest challenges of our humanity.


Ahxehee! (Thank you)

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