In Our Own Voices: Two-Spirit People Responding to Covid-19 – 3rd Installment

The Journal is excited to share the third installment of some of the faces, voices and stories of Two-Spirit people across this land as they are not only coping but thriving during these uncertain times of Covid-19. This series features individuals who are asked to share their personal observations and reflections of the current Covid-19 pandemic, if they are self-isolating, what are they doing to keep themselves busy and what do they miss the most?

In this third installment, Margaret Robinson and Doe O’Brien-Teengs, two inspirational Two-Spirit leaders, scholars and researchers, share how they are reacting and responding to Covid-19.

The Two-Spirit Journal again encourages and welcomes submissions from any reader who wants to partake in this series, send your responses or questions to [email protected]. The Two-Spirit Journal thanks everyone who has already answered this call and has sent in their responses – the Two-Spirit Journal loves the video submission it recently received and is in the cue for posting shorty. Keep the responses coming in!

Remember keep safe! As Gayle Pruden stated so beautifully in the second installment of this series, “Praying, singing, dancing and laughing are my medicine and washing my hands, not touching my face, practicing physical distancing and finally staying home if I’m sick or if I possibly came in contact with Covid-19!”

Image provided by Margaret Robinson

Margaret Robinson is a Two-Spirit l’nu from Eskikewa’kik Nova Scotia and a member of the Lennox Island First Nation. Margaret is an Assistant Professor teaching Indigenous Studies at Dalhousie and is currently working in her PJs and appreciating time with her partner and their four cats.

I’ve holed up in my house in Chezzetcook and finished teaching my previously in-person class online. Initially the focus was on trying to keep the class the same, but that changed quickly as we began to see the impact on students in terms of high stress levels. So, I’ve wrapped up my course at the 75% point and marked everyone based on what they submitted.

I worry about the psychological impact, particularly on people developing their sense of the world. I grew up with anxieties related to the Cold War and used to worry we’d all die in a nuclear apocalypse. I still see some of that thinking shaping my psyche today, and I wonder how experiencing a pandemic like this will shape the mindset of the generation coming of age now.

I’m keeping busy with emails, grant applications – really it looks much like my life would be if were April but with no in-person meetings. I’m enormously lucky and grateful to have a salary job. If COVID-19 had happened ten years ago, I’d be desperate to make my rent. There’s not much I miss. As an academic, a lot of my time was always me in a room with a computer. I’m trying to keep my work schedule looking pretty much like it normally would. I’m enjoying time with my partner and our cats. We’ve watched a lot of episodes of Columbo and Streets of San Francisco.

We live in a rural area, and I see less traffic already. The local grocery store has taken some precautions- specific hours for shoppers who may be greater impacted by covid-19: wiping down carts regularly, etc. I see a lot less toilet paper and soup on the shelves. But culturally, cooperation is a strong value here already, so most people seem eager to do the right thing.

Image provided by Doe O’Brien-Teengs

Doe O’Brien-Teengs is Omushkego Cree and Irish Canadian. Doe grew up in Moosonee, Ontario and the snow of the north has never really left the marrow in her bones. She currently lives in Southern, Ontario with her wife, Nancy and two teenagers, Rowan and Ani. She is working on her PhD in Education; and working as an Indigenous Knowledge Resource Teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum; and as a Sessional Lecturer at Lakehead University in Orillia, Ontario, specializing in Aboriginal and Social Justice Education. She is also a storyteller and writer and has a couple of books to edit once marking is done for this term.

I am teaching three courses at Lakehead University right now. Two are Education classes and the third is an English class. March 12th was our last classes for the Education courses, and we were able to say our farewells at the end of our course. As teachers/professors, we were getting notices daily from the Administration that we might have to move all of our classes online. So, on that day, we did a farewell talking circle in my English class as well – even though this class still runs until April 3rd.  And then on Friday, it was confirmed that all classes would be moved online, and instructors would be given two days (Monday and Tuesday) to prepare and make the necessary changes. We moved to Zoom meetings. When I saw half of my students online, it made me very happy to see them again. With each class, there are less in attendance. I suppose that is to be expected. Not everyone will have great wifi when they get home.

As for my PhD project, I’ve been given ethics approval to move my interactions with participants online using zoom technology. We’ll see how that goes.

It has been an adjustment for everyone. I find it difficult to focus on marking the final assignments for my Education classes and prepping for my English class when I am worried about the new numbers coming out of Ontario. I keep watching in the north and I hope everyone is staying home up there to contain whatever virus is already up in the Timmins area.

We asked my Aunt, who lives in Toronto on her own to come and stay with us until… well we don’t know when, do we? So, she is here, and we are in our bubble of five people. We let March Break be March Break and we didn’t have any expectations of the kids, except to stay close to home. No movies at the theatre and no visit to the Mall.

And now that March Break is over, we have created a routine. The kids each have a schedule which keeps their brains engaged for at least the morning. After lunch we learn a new Cree phrase each day. Today’s phrase: Ka see nah kay tah! Let’s clean up!

We each have a night of the week that we get to choose a group activity that everyone needs to participate in. My night is a movie/craft or game night. I’m loving my Aunt’s night: she regularly joins Karaoke around Toronto, and one of the regular DJs has set up a Karaoke using Zoom technology.  Look for Philharmonic on Facebook for the link – and we join on Thursday. The sound isn’t always the best, but the community engagement and support are amazing! Last night there were 25 people logged on, and everyone was happy. Our daughter loves musicals, and while she was singing, I totally forgot about everything that is going on and felt proud and very happy. It’s a wonderful thing to do before going to bed. On Wednesday nights we’ll turn off the lights and listen to music that my wife wants us to hear. And on Fridays, we’ll all be playing some wii games in the basement with our son. And if you haven’t guessed it, our daughter’s night is going to be rehearsals for a jukebox musical that she and I will be creating – and we all have to be in.

We are doing our best to limit our contact with the outside world. And we are doing our best to stay emotionally balanced on a day to day basis – and sometimes hour to hour.

I worked for the Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy for 14 years before going back to school and I know that hard times are coming. We just need to maintain our compassion for each other as human beings through the next few months. And live and love each moment because we know right now how precious they really are.