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Quarantine Chronicles: Laura Shadley

LAURA SHADLEY is an enrolled citizen of the Klamath Tribes and a descendant of Wasco, Shasta, Pit River, Kalapuya, and Quinault tribes. She speaks out for other indigenous people, as well as marginalized people in our own community.

Laura also works at Brighter Day Natural Foods and is the host of Indigenous Voices on WRUU 107.5 FM, which airs Thursdays at 4 p.m.

This is her Quarantine Chronicle.

How are you doing? What’s life like for you right now?

Right now, I’m working part-time. My hours got cut, and we’re struggling, but Brighter Day is doing a really good job working out for us, so that keeps me a little less stressed.

I’m home with my son, I have adult kids that are spread all around Savannah, so I’m not with all my kids, which makes me emotional.

I think what’s most stressful for me personally is just that worry in the back of my mind of getting sick or coming into contact with people and not being able to stay home with my kids. As someone who’s supposed to be an essential worker, it makes me a little angry sometimes because I don’t want to be an essential worker, I want to be home with my kids and be safe.

But it also makes me feel like it’s important, and it’s giving me a perspective of how important people in low-paying jobs are to the community. We don’t get paid as much, we don’t have healthcare, we struggle on any given day with just trying to make our bills in a regular situation. So this kind of situation totally exasperates our stress.

People in oppressed and marginalized communities here in Savannah, I’m sure, are really feeling the struggle. But I think the community has done well with stepping up; the schools have been really great and stepping up with lunches.

I’m grateful, I’m really blessed right now as an indigenous person to be in the place that I am because I don’t have to worry about not receiving any benefits. I don’t have healthcare, I have tribal healthcare that’s only accessible at a tribal health clinic and there’s not one here in Georgia. That makes it kind of stressful—am I going to receive quality care if something happens if I do get coronavirus?

Otherwise, I’m trying to make the time with my son in our house meaningful and doing a lot more things I didn’t have the time to do.

I want people to see that this is something that didn’t have to happen. These communities have been marginalized for this whole time—it’s not anything new. I hope this is showing people, it’s put people this much closer to what we experience on an everyday basis, because now they’re not able to go and do all the things they want to do, they can’t necessarily get all the things they want when they go grocery shopping. It’s been a struggle, but I hope people are seeing what we’re facing. This is stuff we face everyday.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your situation?

I understand, even myself as an indigenous person, how blessed I am. I have a lot of family who are struggling, a lot of relatives who are going through so much more. I’m pretty much a mouthpiece—I speak for what’s going on around in indigenous communities.

A lot of people are on their lands, protecting what’s left of our lands, our territories, and that’s an important purpose. That’s protecting so much of the biodiversity on the planet. When people say it’s so easy to leave the reservation and just assimilate and live better, they’re not understanding why indigenous people choose to stay on their own lands, and it’s ignorant for people to even have that kind of thinking.

People don’t take the time to understand indigenous culture.

They have a romanticized idealism about natives from movies and from what history has been shared, and not a real idea of who we were in history and definitely not who we are today. They don’t understand that we’re human beings, too, living our lives the best way we can. The difference is we hold on to our teachings and we’re protecting the land, not just for us but for all of humanity. People don’t realize that what’s going on right now is in direct relation to how we’re treating the Earth.

I just want people to understand that this is indigenous land we live on. Anyone who wasn’t here for the last 2000 years are guests on this land. People like the Navajo are being hit really hard because they don’t have access to water. They’ve been trucking in their water this whole time, and they’re also exposed to uranium, which is affecting the DNA of their children.

My Wasco Warm Springs people live in the mountains up in Oregon and they don’t have infrastructure, and they needed to raise $15 million to match the $15 million grant to build the infrastructure they need for the water to flow back to their homes.

Tribes are struggling all over the world. People don’t understand that everything we’re going through now is just the tip of the iceberg of what indigenous people have been struggling with since colonization.

That’s the work I focus on, mostly. It’s not about me, and I’m here only because these things need to be heard in the South. I think a lot of people don’t speak up for indigenous people here; I think a lot of people just go on about their business and think that there’s no indigenous people around to speak up for this land.

We have to be more mindful of how we’re living on this land, because this land never suffered like this before colonization. Indigenous people have prophecies—they’ve known this was going to happen. The way they live their lives every single day and wake up in prayer, wake up with gratitude in their heart, they smudge and use their medicine in a good way, they walk on the Earth in a good way and have a good relationship with the Earth and with the water.

This is how we’ve gotten ourselves into this position with this pandemic, with capitalism. They’re driving us off a cliff right now. They’re so scared they’re going to lose their money and their way of life, but all we want is a life. Not just indigenous people, but people who are struggling to make ends meet every day.

A lot of us work low wages, and we work hard, but the perception is that we don’t work hard and therefore we can’t pull ourselves up out of the poverty. I understand it’s a generational thing; I also come from generational trauma because of our indigenous history and through my family, but I don’t let that set me back.

We have to start standing up. We have to start acknowledging what’s going on and standing up for that, because I think right now we’re at a pivotal moment where we can go back towards the way we were going, or we can turn into a whole new direction. That’s what we need to be focusing on. For me, indigenous wisdom is how I guide myself. I’m on the side of Mother Earth and I stay that way.