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Roanna “Rowie” Shebala

When the Pandemic disrupted the lives of this world it forced a lot of us to sit still, to be confined, to slow down, to examine our lives. In some respects it faced us to start to heal. I was finally able to go home and visit my family back in Fort Defiance, Arizona. The Navajo Nation has been on lock down during the weekends for over a month, which were my times to visit. It was amazing to feel my body release so much when I finally got to hug my parents. I haven’t had their embrace since February of this year. When I did see them in mid-April, I learned one of my grandpas was sick with COVID-19. I collected money from some of my relatives to buy food and supplies for his household. When I saw my parents at that time, I told them not to come near me, not to hold me or hug me. I told them that I’ve been out to several stores getting supplies and don’t know if I could be carrying this virus. I cried in my car as I left them to return home to Albuquerque, NM.

This time I held them just a bit longer, holding back my tears. We have all been very careful where we go. We make sure we have our masks and hand sanitizers at the ready, try to stay 6 feet away from people. And I know that I took a big risk going home to visit my family and there is no excuse that would validate this action. I needed to be home. I needed to regain my strength in my parents’ arms.

It was my sister’s birthday this past weekend, and we sat down as a family, said a prayer, and sang a song for her and her life. My grandma was there to join in the small celebration. The discussion of the current Black Lives Matter Protest came up and as we started to exchange stories we’ve seen on social media and the news. We started to talk about The Civil Rights Movement. This led to talking about Native People and their encounter with racism and rights to religion. “Before the Indian Freedom Religious Act of 1978,” my grandma reminisced, “I remember we would sit in ceremony all night, and had to be quiet mostly. The girls (my mom and aunts) had to have the food ready and quickly serve those who had participated in the ceremony. We had to have the food and ceremonial grounds cleaned, and everyone had to be gone by 7 in the morning or we would get caught and arrested.” This had me shaking my head and left a knot in my stomach. I was born in 1982, and it’s disappointing thinking 5 years prior to my birth it was illegal to pray with our own ceremonies. It was illegal for us Indigenous people to be Indigenous.

My Cheii (grandpa in Dine’) the late Kenneth White Sr. stood up for Native People. I watch these beautiful people as they stand up for injustice. As they come together to help unite this country in equality. I’ve wondered what he might have said seeing these protests. You see my Cheii was right there in 1978 protesting; lobbying for the Indian Religious Freedom Act. He was right there, for Indian Preference. He was the founder of the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO). Which gave Native Americans employment preference for job opportunities on reservations. When something had to be done, he’d do it. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s made it possible for legislation to be considered and passed on behalf of Native People. 

I look at this movement now and think something good is going to come from it, something beautiful that will help not just the Black Community but all people of color. I get to see it, witness it, experience it.  

When asked “how I’m doing?” I’m tired. But I’m also very alert. Something big is coming, something good.

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