A’AGA: Something to be told or talked about

By Billy Allen



May 2020 – what a month to remember! So many life expectations and goals altered or canceled because of COVID-19. Graduations with balloons and flowers went by the wayside. GRIC members completing their studies in elementary, high school, trade school or college had celebrations changed.


Speaking statistically, GRIC is a young community-- 61 out of every 100 people on Gila River Indian Community are between the ages of 18 and 64, and 36% are under 18. So, many in our community were affected by canceled ceremonies. It is disappointing not to gather -- for parents, family, and grandparents to share the pride of earning positive skills and talents for adulthood. Speaking to recent graduates whose ceremony was canceled: that fancy piece of paper, whether it be a diploma, certificate or license will always be yours. It is a record that you completed your course of study— you earned it, even without the hoopla. This can never be taken away. Now put that knowledge and skill to work and help get our lives back to normal.   


O’otham, Piipaash, and Natives have been through tough times before. We’ll get through this too. When Cortes entered Aztec land in 1521, unseen weapons unleashed upon Natives were European diseases. Our genetic makeup had no resistance. It is estimated over 22 million Natives of Mexico and California died within a hundred years of Spanish contact. The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 caused at least 50 million deaths worldwide, about 675,000 in the United States. That Spanish Flu and this coronavirus are invisible germs, but other kinds of diseases have hurt our community. Alcohol was illegal for GRIC members until 1948, but destructive patterns still developed. The same can be said with the introduction of the “drug” culture going mainstream in the 1960s. 


Kudos and props to all “essential workers” who helped make “stay-at-home” livable. Historically, O’otham and Piipaash farmers were essential workers who kept starvation away. Gila River Indian Community’s administration stepped in to take on this ancient role. Essential workers of various departments rallied like troops to hand out life’s necessities: food, water, toilet paper. The big challenge was to get in line before supplies ran out. The temporary peace of mind could not have been any different from what our ancestors felt when food crops were bountiful. 


For many in our community, it’s essential that healthcare treatments, appointments, and prescription access continues. Thank you to all personnel on the front lines. Of course, this pandemic goes beyond our boundaries. We are a sovereign nation, but need outside resources—just as they need us.


When you’re out and about using tribal general assistance, per cap, and stimulus monies—maybe on your on next toilet paper hunt—it would be nice to thank the essential workers who kept on working. Help your favorite fast food spot or restaurant; order something to pick up on the way home. If you choose to say thanks, say it loud enough so it can be heard. This pandemic brought forth a lot of discussion about what in life is “essential.”


Before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to support sanitation workers on strike. The workers’ slogan was, “I am a man.” Dr. King asked for solidarity and told the sanitation workers, “You are demonstrating we can stick together… if one person suffers, if one person is down, we are all down." It sounds like a traditional O’odham and Piipaash thought. Let’s stick together and do the essential steps to help defeat this coronavirus.


Some information was taken from these site; https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html and https://censusreporter.org/profiles/25200US1310R-gila-river-indian-reservation/