Village Turns To Tradition To Turn Away COVID-19

Nov 3, 2020


Nunapitchuk is a village that managed to eliminate COVID-19 after it had spread within the community, and they did it using a combination of traditional medicine and strong lockdown protocols.

Thomas Parks, a Nunapitchuk city councilman, said that the whole village was quiet. Not even kids were outside as the community locked down last summer.

“The first time I see a village that quiet. Nobody was outside,” Parks remembered.

The virus was brought to the village by Parks’ brother, Nalon Evon. When he arrived in August after flying in from the Anchorage airport, Evon was already very weak.

“He had problems with the walking. He said his heart’s not right, not beating well. He had asthma,” Parks said.

Parks got his brother to the clinic for a COVID-19 test, which came back positive. Before the results came back, some people had already spent time with Evon because there had been no strict quarantine in place. Armed with the results, Parks called the city mayor who, along with tribal leaders, got on the VHF radio to put the community into a strict lockdown. They used federal CARES Act funds to pay people who tested negative for the virus to run errands and get food and supplies for others who were locked down at home.

Test results revealed that practically the entire Parks household, 10 out of 13 people, including six of his nine children, had the coronavirus. His mom pulled out the traditional medicine and lined up the patients to dose them, one by one.

“All the Native medicine start popping up. One major medicine was aged urine that was in the jar for about 6 months. Hoho, wow. Really, really strong. I’m glad that I had no taste and no smell,” said Parks.

Evon was upset when he found out that he had brought COVID-19 to Nunapitchuk. Parks said that his brother felt it was his fault.

“I told him, 'don’t blame yourself. You know what Mom said, this sickness will pop up anytime and this is the one. Don’t blame yourself,'” Parks said.

Nalon Evon died from COVID-19, and the community held a socially distant funeral for him.

Nunapitchuk had to be strong to successfully got the virus under control, and is willing to help others do the same. Parks suggests calling the city or the Nunapitchuk tribal council for advice. 

“Call for medicines and instructions we took seriously here at Nunapitchuk,” said Parks.

Health authorities warn that Nunapitchuk may have gotten rid of COVID-19 for now, but it may be back because it is prevalent throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The region is locked down for two weeks to try to control the current surge of cases. 

The “Coffee at KYUK” conversation with Thomas Parks is available on the KYUK website.