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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/20/20

Self-Triage in a Catastrophic World (A Decolonizing Perspective)

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Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,

and that is an act of political warfare. " Audre Lorde

The pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.Arundhati Roy

Deciding whether one's health profile calls for going to a doctor or not is tricky during the best of times, let alone now. Health education has made it so. Whether what we know stems from formal schooling or costly advertisements, our understandings about "healthcare" are sourced in consumerism and greed. The result is our dependence on that which is outside our own considerations. Our colonized mindsets make authentic self-care an act of irreverence for the hegemonic systems leading us to the bring of extinction. Covid-19 might have reminded us of this, but it hasn't. If triage is about examining problems in order to decide which ones are the most serious and must be dealt with first so as to save the most people, we are not doing it well enough. In fact, the colonized mind cannot save itself.

The worldwide focus on the Corona virus is an example itself. The first mistake in priorities is our scant attention to why it is here and how we can prevent it or a worse pandemic from arising again. Many priorities exist beyond learning to wash one's hands, taking time to enjoy one's children or starting a new hobby. A wide range of other options exist from beginning to question anthropocentrism to ending xenophobia. Just focusing on the hypnosis of our words would be an important priority. Even the noun-based, human-centered English language I am now using contributes to the kind of categorical, materialistic, dualistic, selfish, fear-based, inflexible thinking that colonizes our minds. Loss of our original verb-based, Earth-centered Indigenous languages is in fact one reason for the increasing diseases in the world. Although the non-Indigenous languages will never recapture place-based wisdom, while we attempt to make saving them a priority we can at least begin to understand the worldview that the languages represent. After all, there would be little reason to speak an Indigenous language if one did not think Indigenous.

Whatever language we use, making healthy decisions requires serious ongoing meta-cognitive work about why we think as we do. Only with it can we can effectively assess priorities in life. With such self-knowledge, we break with the conventions of social hierarchy and rediscover our interconnectedness with all. We will learn that many, if not most of conventional health perspectives in a colonized, profit-driven culture minimize self-authority, fearlessness, honesty and holistic preventive perspectives. Without such self-knowledge, the best we might hope for in a pandemic might be that an ambulance can reach us, that the driver will have an appropriate mask, and that we'll arrive clean hospital with a new ventilator. Then we can pray there will be drugs to help us stop suffering if a vaccination is not available. If it is, we won't question its safety. If things do not go well, as we take our last breath, we can at least be satisfied that we did our best to access the medical establishment. Perhaps if we leave a 5th grade child behind, we can take satisfaction knowing they too will pass Standard #3 of the California Common Core State Health Education Standard entitled "Accessing Valid Health Information" that mandates "All students will demonstrate the ability to access and analyze health information, products and services."

It may be interesting to note here, by the way, that the Common Core Health Education Standards are largely informed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also reflects colonized systems. The list of financial contributors to the CDC include the majority of the large pharmaceutical companies. Revolving doors between private industry and the CDC or FDA are well known. Studies have shown that its alliances with polluting corporations have also misled the public about the heath consequences of pollution that kills around 9 million people annually. In many ways, its own triage ignores some of the most dangerous contributors to poor health in the world and possible solutions to them. As for cancers that kill half a million people in the United States every year, the CDCs priorities for cancer screenings and cancer medicines fall short of trulynsignificant benefits as well, while ignoring important preventive and potential curative priorities.

Perhaps I am a case in point as relates to much of what I have asserted so far. In 2008, I felt a tumor in my abdomen and jumped into the conventional medicine rabbit hole. The diagnosis was non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Three respected oncologists in three countries emphatically prescribed surgery and/or chemotherapy "ASAP." As an Oglala Lakota Pipe Carrier and Sun Dancer, I knew I would not make a final decision without doing ceremony and entering into dialogue with the Spirits. Still, as if hypnotized against my will, I found myself on the operating table in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, getting another biopsy by the physician who was planning on removing the tumor. When the needle-like instrument he was using slipped off the side of the tumor and he exclaimed "Â HÃ jole!" I came to my senses. I told him I was sorry but I was done. I got up, allowed the nurse to put a bandage on the puncture hole, I walked out of the hospital.

When I arrived back at the small fishing village where our home was, I told my wife what had happened and commenced making the fire for my inipi ceremony in the temazcal (Sweat House). When I was done, I told her that I had decided to walk away from all conventional medicine and just align my life more carefully with the Indigenous worldview precepts I championed in my academic work for many years. My focus on "walking the talk" would include a stronger emphasis on:

* Courage and fearless trust in the universe

* Generosity and a socially purposeful life in behalf of future generations

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Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows) is a professor at Fielding Graduate University. Former Director of Education at Oglala Lakota College, he is a made-relative of the Oglala and a Sun Dancer. Selected by AERO for their text Turning Points as one of 27 (more...)
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