Acoma group gives 'sense of belonging' - Albuquerque Journal

Acoma group gives ‘sense of belonging’

Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Like many of New Mexico’s Indigenous communities, Acoma Pueblo went into lockdown in spring 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What followed for the pueblo about an hour west of Albuquerque was months of isolation, economic hardship and illness, cancellations of school and celebrations, a ray of hope from the vaccine and, now, lingering uncertainty about how the pandemic will end.

To help support the community, the Acoma Pueblo Health and Human Services Division hosts a virtual pandemic survivors group each week.

Mark Lorenzo Jr., a cultural liaison with Acoma Behavioral Health Services who helps run the online group, sees it as a space to “begin the healing process” from the shared traumas of the pandemic.

“It gives us a sense of belonging,” Lorenzo said. “We all miss our gatherings and our social traditions, our feasts or ceremonies. So this gives us another purpose to gather. And it lets us know that we’re not alone in this.”

Virtual meetups began in late 2020, then picked back up again this summer.

Each week the group discusses lessons learned during the pandemic, how they stay physically and emotionally healthy, and how to maintain cultures and traditions.

Edwina Valdo, a former Acoma Health Department director, has worked in the pueblo’s health command center since last March. She delivers quarantine notices to people who tested positive for the virus, coordinates emergency food deliveries and organizes virus testing and vaccination events.

“COVID has affected everyone in one way or another, whether you got COVID yourself or had a family member that passed, or maybe you went on unemployment because your hours got cut,” Valdo said.

“We all experience it in a different way.”

The leaders said the group is unique because of its cultural perspective.

Participants sometimes speak in the pueblo’s language, and each session begins and ends with prayer.

“We treat this pandemic as another living being and so within those prayers, we ask that it rests one day and leaves the people of this world alone,” Lorenzo said.

The group shares how they’ve coped with isolation or illness.

Lorenzo enjoys biking with family and practicing traditional dances with his young son. Valdo has used exercise, cooking and reading as outlets.

The Acoma employees may educate participants about the pueblo’s counseling resources or other support groups.

Future plans include more guest speakers, conversations between elders and younger pueblo members and, eventually, in-person meetings.

“Our pueblo is really small. Everybody knows everyone,” Valdo said. “I think everyone knows who has passed from COVID or who had COVID. We’re really emphasizing that this group is a confidential group. And we do our best to protect individuals who want to share their story.”

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