Thankfulness Amid a Pandemic
by Ted Streuli
In my most cynical moments this year, I picture an editorial cartoon on the Op-Ed page showing a cartoonish Native American and a Pilgrim, hand tight around the neck of an astonished turkey with bulging eyes — it’s the cartoon you’ve see 100 times but this year the characters are wearing masks.
If only I could draw.
Oklahoma’s fourth district U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw, led Oklahoma’s congressional contingent to pass the Native American Heritage Month resolution, effective for November 2020, and incorporating Native American Heritage Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, which Congress adopted in 2009.
Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico, among the bipartisan co-sponsors of Cole’s bill, was quoted in the press release as saying that, “By giving an elevated voice to Native Americans, we’re also drawing attention to the challenges that our tribal communities still face.”
One of those challenges is that COVID-19 is affecting Native Americans at a rate 4.1 times greater than white Americans according to recent Centers for Disease Control data. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation has reported more than 4,000 cases.
“Obesity, diabetes and lung disease are epidemics in Indian Country already,” Dr. Jesicah Gilmore with the Indian Health Care Resource Center, told a Tulsa television station. “You combine the lack of access to healthcare and socioeconomic factors and a COVID-19 pandemic, you end up with higher death rates.”
Access to healthcare in 1621 was an entirely different story, of course. A prevailing theory now suggests that European ships unwittingly carried black rats to the New World, which spread leptospirosis, better known as swamp fever, causing a plague that killed much of the native population near Patuxet (near what we know as Plymouth Harbor) between 1616 and 1619. By the time the Mayflower got there in 1620, the pilgrims were able to give thanks for their lucky landing near a an abandoned village with tilled soil, mature corn and a “a very sweet brook,” according to writings of the day. The original villagers were all dead.
Leptospirosis is only a theory, and there are plenty who doubt its likelihood. The death rate was too high; the strain would have had to be extremely virulent or there would have had to have been an extraordinary exposure rate.
If only they’d had Dr. Faucci.
In 2020, we find ourselves at a more inclusive table. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 drove tribal prosperity, which in turn drove tribal influence and produced revenue that went toward social benefits — such as access to healthcare.
The COVID-19 infection rates suggest there’s still a long way to go. And that’s the kind of problem Rotary is good at solving.
In Italy, where only 10% of retailers have online sales, a Rotarian who founded a tech company built a website, Consegnacasa, to help small and medium business sell products online for delivery, easing the economic pain of the pandemic. In Milan, a Rotarian used his business contacts to help the university find needed ingredients and distribution channels for hand sanitizer.
In Africa, a Rotarian led a fundraising effort in Ethiopia and Kenya that raised more than $21,000 in 20 days, which was matched by a Kenyan bank. The team used the money to purchase 100 water tanks for hand-washing stations, then persuaded the supplier to donate an additional 100.
And in Oklahoma City, Club 29 donated $17,500 to five organizations providing COVID-19 relief efforts in the community: Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, The Homeless Alliance, Infant Crisis Services, Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma County, and SSM St. Anthony Foundation.
I am thankful this year that no one in my family has yet contracted COVID-19. I am thankful that access to healthcare is improving. I am thankful there is a vaccine on the horizon, and I am thankful to be part of an international organization that always answers the call.
If only I could do more.