Urgent Lessons from Indigenous Ceremonialists During Covid-19: Sharing Wise Practices in Times of Uncertainty

Castleden, Heather E. | $50,000

Ontario Queen's University 2021 SSHRC

For many Indigenous Peoples, Ceremonies have always been a part of individual and community health and wellbeing. As the COVID‑19 global pandemic has impacted all of us; some are impacted more and others are impacted less given pre-existing inequities, disparities, injustices. Nowhere is this embodied more than in the context of Indigenous ceremonies, which are often communal, always sacred, activities that have taken place across Turtle Island (now also known as North America) since time immemorial. In keeping with Indigenous law, these Ceremonies are central to living a good life in relation to the land. Despite the importance of Ceremony to Indigenous Peoples, little discussion and scant research has taken place regarding the disruption of this critical element of Indigenous life throughout COVID-19.

Thus, in the past year, we explored how ceremonialists are adapting their Ceremonies. We questioned what is the ‘right’ thing to do, knowing some Ceremonies can change, and some Ceremonies simply cannot. Our team, which is gender/traditional/culturally diverse, began a research project in Spring 2020, with support from a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant (COVID-19 Special Initiative), to explore and understand the differentiated impacts of how Indigenous ceremonies have been affected by and adapting to our changing COVID‑19 reality. We collected audio and video data during several Ceremonial gatherings and have been doing intensive data analysis due to the urgent nature of sharing wise practices in this time of uncertainty.

The point of this SSHRC Connections Grant proposal is to allow us to share our knowledge about conducting Ceremonies during COVID‑19 with present and future generations. Although there are not a lot of Indigenous ceremonies going on because of COVID-19, our Team’s Elder ran Ceremonies throughout the past year. Thus, we had an opportunity to explore how Ceremony can be adapted in light of public health guidelines, while also observing the impact and importance of Ceremony amidst the pandemic. Given what we have learned through our current research, we know it is important to disseminate the knowledge we have generated, particularly impacts on diverse groups within our communities (e.g., gender and identity) and to continue to implement and continuously evaluate the cultural safety of our community-led solutions for addressing COVID-19.

Our objectives are two-fold. First, we seek to shine a light on the immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic on Indigenous Ceremonies. Second, we aim to amplify the lived experiences of Indigenous Peoples who have been attending ceremony during COVID‑19 to center the culturally safe and community-led solutions that supported people’s ability to attend Ceremony. Using the data we collected over the past year, we will: 1. Develop a manuscript for peer-review publication (academic audience); 2. Create an 8-part podcast about our activities (public audience); 3. Produce a series of documentary-style vignettes that will accompany the podcast series, showcasing the vital importance of Ceremony to the health and wellbeing of many Indigenous Peoples during COVID‑19 (public audience); 4. Prepare a policy-oriented report (Indigenous governance audiences); and 5. Share our Wise Practices at national and international Indigenous conferences (Indigenous academic audiences), thereby preserving such knowledge for future generations of Indigenous ceremonialists as they navigate this and other similar futurities.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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