What Is “Iyyikowa,” and Why Do We Need More of It?

The Choctaw have a word, “iyyikowa,” that means serving those in need… and we need more of it.

Charles Dickens, writing about the inequality and social turmoil leading to the French Revolution, noted, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

So it is today, with the horrific COVID-19 killer both ravaging the globe and intensifying the inequality that was already rending social unity. Consider the experiences of one especially hard-hit group in our country: Native Americans. The Navajo Nation alone has become one of the worst of America’s COVID hotspots, with a higher death rate than all but four states. Yet, in an example of the worst of times, Trump & Co. delayed disbursement of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funds that Congress had set aside for tribal governments. The disease raged through Indian Country for six crucial weeks while Trump officials sat on the money. People died.
In one symbolic screw-up, an American Indian health agency in Seattle urgently requested test kits and medical supplies, but when a shipment finally arrived — good grief! — it contained zippered body bags and tags that read, “Attach to toe.”

Yet, the crisis has also been the best of times, with front-line health workers performing heroically, and regular folks everywhere coming through with countless acts of generosity and community spirit. One incident in early May was especially poignant, again involving the Navajo Nation. A GoFundMe appeal sought a couple million bucks to help that tribe deal with the spreading virus, but donations quickly surged past $3 million, mostly in small amounts pouring in from a surprising source: Irish people!

Huh? To connect the dots, go back to the Potato Famine of the 1840s, which killed a million Irish and forced another million to emigrate. In the midst of their despair, though, a modest donation of $170 had arrived in the Emerald Isle in 1847, lifting the nation’s spirit — not because of the amount but because it came from the equally impoverished and suffering people of the Choctaw Nation, 4,000 miles away in Oklahoma. This act of deep humanitarian empathy created a special bond that has endured and been celebrated ever since by generations of Native Americans and people of Irish heritage.

The Choctaw have a word, “iyyikowa,” that means serving those in need. That’s what turns the worst of times into the best… and we need more of it.

Times of great adversity not only bring out the best and worst in society but also some of the stinkiest and slimiest creatures. Think of war profiteers… or hucksters who prey on the elderly… or Betsy DeVos.
Even in the Trump Kakistocracy, DeVos stands out as an especially loathsome plutocrat, constantly trying to weasel her far-right, corporatist agenda into law. Unfortunately, as education secretary, the billionaire heiress is in a position to be an out-of-control wrecking ball on America’s public schools. Indeed, she routinely connives to drain our tax dollars from public education and give them to for-profit private schools — including some she personally invests in. Worse, she keeps trying to rig the rules so fly-by-night for-profit colleges can more easily defraud their low-income students and grab more profits for the rich investors who own these educational chains.

Now the devilish DeVos has grabbed on to the government’s big coronavirus relief program as a way to impose her ideological agenda on American education. While We the People have been focused on our health and economic survival, she has quietly been pushing school districts to use some $58 billion in COVID-19 emergency funds to create voucher-style grants to fund wealthy private schools at the expense of lower-income families. Officials in New Orleans, for example, say her plan would put 77% of their pandemic relief allocation in private hands, and Pennsylvania says more than half of its relief money would flow from the “most disadvantaged to more advantaged students.”

Not satisfied with perverting the national disaster program into a slush fund for her privatization agenda, DeVos then tried to pervert language and logic when Congress caught on to her diversion scheme. If the public money were to go primarily to public schools, her political staff retorted, it would place wealthy non-public schools “at a disadvantage.” Yes, in DeVosWorld, the needs of the poor rich must come first so they’re not discriminated against by the … you know, actual poor.

Kakistocracy is government by the very worst people in society, and now it has a proper name: Betsy DeVos.

Jim Hightower