We are honored to have Triston B. Black, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and community member of Tsaile, Arizona, share his thoughts in our newsletter and blog for National Mental Health Awareness Month.
Ashinéé’ shiyázhí, or “I’ve missed you my grandchild,” are the first words you hear when your grandparents see you. The love and comfort of our elders give us strength, warmth, and a sense of belonging. Our elderly women hug us and talk about how much we have grown, and our elderly men are glad to catch up with us and see what we have been up to. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect in our tribal communities.
It has taken parents, grandparents, and extended relatives. It was heart aching to hear of loved ones taken from us, but now is the time to take care of our mental health. Now is the time to reconnect with our family, friends, neighbors, and continue to be a good relative to all in our community.
In the Navajo language, our relatives tell us, “Nitsíkees baa áháyą́” which means take care of your mental health. After a good conversation or a chance meeting at the store, we always hear “Ádá’ahwołyą́”, or “Take care of yourself.” Self-care is very important to be a good relative and nurtures our mental well-being. There may be things we are going through or times we need to talk to someone, and it’s always good to hear our relatives out and take the time to listen to them.
Every time I leave home, my grandparents and mother remind me to keep in touch with them and always pray for a safe journey. As Indigenous people, we are always being watched over by the Diyin Dine’é or the Holy People. Everywhere we go, we are constantly protected and blessed with emotional, social, physical, and spiritual strength.
We breathe the sacred breath of life and acknowledge our surrounding environment. For instance, when we go for a walk, we may cross paths with birds, plants, trees, and the natural elements. All these essential beings greet us, sing to us, and weave throughout the landscape. They are happy to see us, just as our elders are happy to see us.
One of the first steps in improving our mental health is taking care of ourselves. I encourage you to take time and breathe. Call or video call an elder, parents, or an extended relative. Take time to remember that our community members are our relatives. You may not know them, but you may make someone’s day by giving them a smile.
These past two years have been tough, but now is the time to heal and continue to be a good relative. Our Indigenous youth prioritize their mental health and build our communities up. What is your call to improve mental health for your community? I say to you, - Ádá’ahwołyą́ - take care of yourself.
Artwork by Joelle Joyner (Meherrin, Cherokee Nation, and Blackfeet) Creative Native Call for Art Category Winner.