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What Hopi And Navajo Teachings Tell Us About Pandemics


Throughout today's program, we hear from Americans about how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting their lives and their thoughts.

SHANNON FRANCIS: In terms of crises like this, people, of course, panic and don't know what to do. We have to remember everything, you know, has a purpose. And so we believe that this is a new beginning.

SIMON: Shannon Francis lives in Denver, but she grew up in Kykotsmovi, one of the 12 Hopi villages in Arizona. Her family is both Hopi and Navajo.

FRANCIS: My grandpa and his grandpa recorded a lot of the genealogy and tracked families through other pandemics like the flu, influenza, tuberculosis. That knowledge is always passed down from, you know, mother to daughter, father to son, elder to grandchild. Some of our teachings that I was brought up with is that when in times of other pandemics, everybody would have to kind of go into seclusion, go into their homes, and especially during the winter, it's a time of quiet and reflection and peace.


FRANCIS: My mother said that this is a good thing because Mother Earth is getting a break from humans - from mining, development, digging her up, you know, her soil, and so this is sort of a break for her. And the natural world is going to restore herself and really, you know, start the healing.


FRANCIS: My people believe that we keep the Earth and the universe in balance with the ceremonies and the songs and the things we do to help things grow - to pray for rain, to pray for a good harvest, and so these things help keep us in balance. Growing up, my mother always had a garden. I spent the summers weeding her garden every year or everywhere that we moved to, whether it was the mountains or - I know one time we lived in California in the back of a vineyard and there was a stream. We had no running water, we had no electricity. We had to use oil lamps and candles, and we had to bathe in the stream. But it didn't matter where we lived. Putting my hands in the soil felt good.


FRANCIS: We believe that minerals and the water that comes from this world and when we're ready to pass we, you know, take our last breath and then that goes into the air and becomes evaporation and gets mixed with the rain and the snow and then comes down and nourishes everything else in that form of rain or snow.


FRANCIS: The pandemic, for some families who are losing loved ones, it is really hard. But at the same time, this life cycle process continues, you know, and we have to remember that, that we belong to Mother Earth.


SIMON: Shannon Francis, a member of the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANTOMPOWER'S "BLANKETS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.