MINNEAPOLIS — Every morning, around 30 staff members with the Native American Community Clinic get together in an online virtual huddle.
Before the day’s duties are assigned, Elder in Residence Renee Beaulieu-Banks, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, starts out with a quick blessing – first in Ojibwemowin, and then again in English.
“We have conversations with spirits. We invite them to listen. We thank them, offer them tobacco for our requests and for our gratitude,” Beaulieu-Banks says. “That’s what I do in the morning. I do a request for healing. Not only for ourselves, but for the community and each other.”
Beaulieu-Banks also addresses the spirit of COVID-19, requesting that it have mercy on not only the native people, but everyone. She thanks the spirits for bringing the medical team together for this work, calling them “our warriors.” Staff members at the clinic, which provides health services to members of Minneapolis’ sizable Native American population, overwhelmingly say the introduction helps orient them and starts the day out in a “good way.”
Much of the coverage of Native Americans during the pandemic has focused on hard-hit rural reservations. But 78% of American Indians and Alaska Natives – who were either AI/AN alone or in combination with at least one other race – lived outside reservations or similar areas as of the 2010 Census, many of them in urban areas. Native residents of Minneapolis haven’t been immune to the challenges posed by COVID-19, including the mental health impacts of quarantine, isolation and financial instability.
The Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis has been able to meet their needs not only by shifting online, but through its integration of traditional and spiritual healing into its programming.
“We’ve wanted to amplify the capacity to do integrated cultural healing into the clinic. It seems like it took forever to get here. But we’re finally here,” says NACC CEO Antony Stately, who is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and has familial ties to the Red Lake and White Earth Ojibwe nations. “Elders are helping guide the way.”
According to census data reported by the Urban Indian Health Institute, more than 29,000 people in Minnesota’s Minneapolis–St. Paul area identified as American Indian or Alaska Native alone or in combination with any other race in recent years. That includes NACC’s neighboring Little Earth community, an affordable housing complex that claims it has about 1,500 mostly native residents. NACC serves roughly 4,500 patients a year.
Luckily, the clinic had the infrastructure for telehealth already in place before the pandemic. On April 20, two employees tested positive for COVID-19. The clinic had to basically shut down for two weeks, and the staff had to learn how to operate via telehealth – and quickly.
“We were up and running on Day One, and adjusted very fast,” NACC Chief Medical Officer Kari Rabie says. “Given our position and what we do, that’s what we do anyways. We always joke that it’s