When myths become known as reality noted Mdewakantonwan historian and philosopher, Dr. Chuck Ross has been known to shout out, “How did those Indians know about that?” Many times important lessons were passed on in tribal origin stories. One example can be found in the Navajo creation myth:
As the Navajo entered the world, the Mice brought the seeds to establish the present day ecosystem. For this reason, mice are considered the landlords of the earth. However, mice inhabit the nocturnal and outside world and people the daytime and indoor world: there should be no close contact between people and mice. Such contact will result in sickness and possibly death. Additionally when the landlord mice enter a home and see that it is unkempt and not in harmony it is said that they become angry and may strike down someone in the household, usually a young, healthy member of the family (Simpson, et al).
In the early 1990’s my son based back to his Dad’s culture and attended some summer camps in the southwest US on the Navajo Reservation. So we were much attuned when in 1993 a mysterious disease began to kill young healthy people out there. Patients became ill but death could occur within a matter of hours after the severe respiratory symptom stage developed.
The Indian Health Service and the CDC worked together and the cause was identified as a virus that a common Deer mouse carried. Additional cases were discovered throughout the southwest and other states and over 700 people were known to have died of it during that season.
As it turned out, the research showed that the traditional Navajo elders and their medicine people Haatalli had predicted that outbreak and others AND the connection with mice as the bearers of that disease. They knew this because their ancestors had known when there would be increased rainfall the pinion trees put on more nuts, and more nuts brought more mice which would bring more disease.
When you live in the country, you may not live alone. The little ones can come unannounced, never welcomed. While the repairs on my home continue, my son and I are living in the house my parents lived in, but hadn't lived in since they passed. The house has not been unattended. It had been overrun by the little ones. Since we moved in, each day is a new discovery of their tenacity while they ruled the house. We believe they don't live here anymore, but they did and each drawer we pull out is the opportunity to remove their evidence of residence and give it a new start.
Mice, the little ones are not welcome, ever. But in a home with a Navajo, they are almost taboo. For centuries the Navajo have known that mice waste could be deadly and dwellings must be kept as clean and tidy as possible to deter them.
They can carry a deadly disease; we now know is caused by the Hantavirus. The early symptoms of the shortness of breath or difficulty breathing - acute, sometimes severe, respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus which are the same symptoms we know as the new COVID19. And it is surging now through the Navajo community, with one of the highest infection rates per capita in the country with the peak weeks away.
The past is prolog. And we can pay attention or pay a price. The researchers found out more about the Hantavirus. It is one that can be passed from an animal to humans when it is aerosolized, when we breathe it in, so dust and particles of mouse waste and urine could carry it. The answer was to keep vigilant cleaning your home and keeping what mice want to eat unavailable and when cleaning to protect against inhaling those infected particles.
Now we are all learning about virus and how like the hantavirus, there is no cure, there is treatment, but the best, the very best is to prevent exposure. With the COVID19, we do that by wearing masks, staying home and limiting space between you and the air someone else breathes out. Airborne particles are free to the public and do not discriminate. The very air we need to sustain us can contain what can kill us.
If we could fast forward time, one day there will be myths throughout the cultures of the world about this virus. They will instruct the future generations in how to conduct their lives to stay healthy. For now stay in, stay safe my friends. And maybe do a little more spring cleaning because of the little ones.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim