For more than two weeks, David Deer visited his father’s hospital window daily during his battle with COVID-19. Each time, he burned cedar outside the building in prayer.
“I just came every day to lift my dad up and lift this hospital up,” Deer said.
Last week, Chickasaw Lighthorse police ordered Deer to leave the property and had a conversation with a hospital staff member. Deer, a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, broadcasted the interactions on Facebook.
In the video, an unidentified staff member told Deer it was “against the law” to burn cedar on hospital property.
In response, Deer and others organized a protest at the hospital. A group of about 30 people walked to a courtyard and peacefully prayed. Hospital staff helped orchestrate the demonstration to ensure patient privacy was protected.
The goal of the protest was to call out the Chickasaw staff and to make sure other natives are not discriminated against based on faith, Deer said.
“Someone has to be held accountable or this is going to happen again. And we don’t want this to happen again,” he said.
Kevin R. Kemper, Deer’s attorney said they are meeting with members of the Chickasaw government to discuss the issue and possible remedies. Kemper said they are prepared to file a lawsuit in the matter if discussions are not productive.
“We’re not backing down,” he said. “A man who is praying over a dying father. If he can’t say those prayers in the way that he believes in the depths of his heart, then we have way more problems worse than COVID.”
Kevin Meeks, the deputy secretary of the Chickasaw Department of Health issued a statement following News 9’s request for comment.
“COVID-19 has created many challenges and obstacles in health care,” Meeks said. “We are constantly working to adapt to those challenges including our addressing the need for family members to visit patients from outside their window while protecting the privacy of all patients. We have always valued traditional and religious practices and have processes in place to honor those traditions while ensuring all safety requirements are met. We have reviewed our policy and are equipped to safely accommodate requests for ceremonial smudging, burning of cedar or sage outdoors. Our goal is to continue providing quality care to our patients as we navigate these evolving times.”