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Coronavirus Impact: Pandemic reduces religious gatherings among local Native Americans

Posted at 3:56 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 19:42:26-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Native Americans in South Texas have had to find new ways to perform religious ceremonies in order to avoid contracting COVID-19.

Many of the Native Americans in the area do not know which specific tribe they belong to, so they honor all tribes by getting together to honor their ancestors and the spirits.

One way they do that is by gathering on the sacred grounds where their ancestors are buried. The location is now Suter Wildlife Refuge, a park off Ennis Joslin in Corpus Christi. It has a medicine wheel that represents the four cardinal directions.

Native Americans wrap tobacco in cloths and tie them to the trees at the park and say a prayer. Tobacco is medicinal and holy in Native American culture. The “prayer ties” that the tobacco is wrapped in is biodegradable, so they become an offering to the spirit world once they fall off the trees.

Larry Running Turtle Salazar is one of those Native Americans that comes to the park to pray and hang ties on the trees. He says that COVID-19 has not allowed his Native American community to do things like the march that was planned for last weekend. He says that this isn’t the first time Native Americans have had to deal with a pandemic.

“It’s part of karma…almost [like] what happened to us in 1492, where we did not have the immunity system that the Europeans were bringing in and killed off a lot of our people,” Salazar said.

According to the CDC, Native Americans appear to be more likely to contract COVID-19. Having to social distance also means that the elderly of the community do not publicly partake in religious and cultural events, so a younger generation has to step up.

“It’s very important for me to re-learn and remember my heritage because so much has been lost already,” Wally Blue Wolf Flores, a Native American from the Coastal Bend, said.

Native Americans from South Texas hope to erect a monument in the middle of the medicine wheel at Suter Wildlife Refuge. Salazar says that it will be built when they have the proper funds, which he raises through donations and by selling Native American goods.