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SLU SLHS Students Recognize the Perseverance of Indigenous Peoples in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As part of Saint Louis University’s (SLU) 2022 Atlas Week program - which brings together members of the SLU community to explore global challenges of the 21st century - undergraduate Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) students from Assistant Professor Dr. Whitney Postman’s Cultural and Linguistic Diversity course hosted an event titled “Native Americans’ Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impact, Influence, and Cultural-Linguistic Relevance”. Their event honored this year’s Atlas Week theme, “From the Ashes: Rebuilding the Global Scene in the World of COVID-19”, which was focused upon global issues as they pertain to creating a more equitable global society following the pervasive disparities exposed by the pandemic. 

SLHS Atlas Week Group Photo
SLU SLHS Students hosted an Atlas Week event to recognize the perseverance of indigenous peoples through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long-established factors such as poverty, isolation, and severely restricted access to basic health services have conspired to perpetuate increased risk for COVID-19 infection and fatality among indigenous communities in North America. The most defenseless have been elders, whose crucial roles as repositories and progenitors of linguistic and cultural knowledge are treasured and irreplaceable. These injustices affecting their languages, cultures, health, and socio-politico-economic power were revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. To illustrate how past offenses have entailed current inequities, in Sioux communities of the Northern Great Plains, languages such as Dakota and Lakota are primarily spoken by members whose average age is 70 years old. When many of these elders succumbed to the ravages of COVID-19, Sioux communities—and the world-- lost key representatives of Sioux languages and culture. This event highlighted and celebrated indigenous peoples’ progress towards linguistic and health equity.

SLHS student Juliana Roza was one of the students who — under Dr. Postman’s guidance — helped to plan the event. She explained how highlighting the perseverance of indigenous peoples was central to the purpose of the course and its alignment with SLU’s commitment to social justice.

“We wanted to highlight and spread awareness on the issues that Native Americans face every day and how they have been exacerbated during the pandemic,” Roza said. “Native Americans have constantly faced linguistic discrimination and oppression throughout the history of the United States– reminding the SLU community of this fact was a crucial part of our mission for this event.”

Another student organizer of the event, Marisa Cruz, explained how learning about a topic like this is not only needed from a human rights perspective, but it will also ensure that she and her classmates become more ethically and socially sensitive clinicians after they graduate.

“We have discussed language deprivation and how, unfortunately, many Native American children were stripped of their culture and punished if they followed cultural traditions or spoke their native languages,” Cruz said. “In order to be culturally competent clinicians, it is important that we can serve all populations to the best of our ability.”

Roza went on to discuss some of the lessons that stuck with her the most from her experience of helping to plan the event.

“I thought the most impactful part of this entire event was the resilience of Native Americans. Even during a very stressful, heavy time with restrictions and social distancing, they still came together as a community to uplift and support one another,” Roza said. “Virtual pow wows carried on their traditions as best as they could. Their value of community, family and tradition is truly inspiring.”

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 13,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.