Family, friends rally around Oneida aksotha sick with COVID-19

Family and friends are rallying around a 69-year-old London woman who is known as a knowledge keeper and integral part of longhouse life at Onieda of the Thames First Nation.

The 69-year-old has been on a ventilator for about three weeks

Diana Doxtator, 69, of London, is from Oneida Nation of the Thames. She is in hospital with COVID-19. (Supplied by Charlotte Elijah)

Diana Doxtator has always been that person you can count on for a warm meal, a place to stay, a loving conversation, or a laugh. 

Aksotha. Grandmother. Someone who embodies konolukhwahsla, a love of her people. Doxtator, from the Oneida Nation of the Thames, is fiercely proud of her Turtle Clan culture, passing on her traditions to those around her, participating in longhouse ceremonies and using the Oneida language so that others can carry it on. 

But now, family and friends are rallying around the 69-year-old London woman as she battles COVID-19, a diagnosis made at the beginning of January that has kept her in the intensive care unit on a ventilator for the past three weeks.

"In our community, she is a traditional longhouse woman. She always attended ceremony, she's known for her cooking, she has knowledge about the medicine that is used in our society," said Charlotte Diana Rose Elijah, Doxtator's daughter. 

Liona Doxtator calls Diana her aksotha, the Oneida word for grandmother. (Supplied by Liona Doxtator)

"She's adopted numerous people throughout her life, taken people under her wing. She has a lot of people who call her grandma or mom or auntie, and they're not relation, but she is the one who gives them unconditional love. She has a heart of gold." 

The family's home in London was always open to anyone who needed help, and she has passed on her love of taking care of others to those around her, including Elijah, who decided to become a foster parent because she saw the love that Doxtator gave. 

Elijah used to see her mom every day, but the pandemic changed all that. The family was diligent about keeping their distance, not going out unless for essentials and wearing masks. But at the beginning of January Doxtator became lethargic and had a raspy cough. 

From lethargy to severe illness

At a trip to the emergency room, she was diagnosed with pneumonia and released after being given a COVID test. A few days later, she was unable to get out of bed. 

"I was helping her, feeding her, having to hold her up in bed. It just escalated in a matter of two days and I told her, 'This isn't right. You shouldn't be this sick with pneumonia,'" Elijah said. 

An ambulance took Doxtator back to the hospital and the original COVID-19 test came back positive. After about a week, her health kept declining and she was put on a ventilator. 

Elijah eventually tested positive for the novel coronavirus as well, but was not very ill. 20-year-old Daniel (Teha) Elijah, who lives with Doxtator, did not test positive.

'An overall beautiful woman'

Doxtator's illness, and the inability of those who love her to physically be with her, is hitting hard. 

Elijah hasn't been able to visit her mom. She's had virtual visits, although Doxtator can't talk. 

Even before her illness, the year has been tough for Doxtator, who lost her sister and confidant, as well as a niece and nephew, in the last few months. And, the family has discovered, she hasn't been paying many of the bills associated with her home. 

"We are praying that she gets better. I can't imagine life without my mom in it. And I want her to have a home to come home to when she gets better," said Elijah, who has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser for the family. 

Diana Doxtator with some of her family members. The London woman is known to open her home to anyone who needs help. (Supplied by Charlotte Elijah)

Liona Doxtator didn't have a biological grandmother who was active in her life, but Diana Doxtator took on that role when she dated her grandfather. When they broke up, they two remained close, said Liona Doxtator. 

"She's about more than our families, she truly cares about our nation. Our longhouse is where we conduct our ceremonies, something we can't do right now, but she was always there, helping, feeding people. She's a knowledge keeper, she's just everything, an all around beautiful woman," Liona Doxtator said. 

Longhouse ceremonies, which are held during different phases of the moon, mark different seasons and phases of agriculture. They involve people getting together, sharing food and stories, and Doxtator is a big part of that. 

'Everybody calls her aksotha'

"She carries a lot of our nation's knowledge," Liona Doxtator said. "Everybody calls her aksotha, grandma." 

Doxtator also helps at the Tsinukwalihota, a traditional school where children can learn about their heritage. 

"When I had my son, she is now a grandma to him. She calls him her own. To see her have all this love for my son is such a beautiful thing. If we didn't have her, he wouldn't have a grandmother," Liona Doxtator said. 

"We're very spiritual beings and we truly believe that prayer works. We want everyone to pray for our aksotha, because we don't believe it's her time yet."

Diana Doxtator is very proud of her Oneida heritage and passes on her knowledge to others. (Supplied by Charlotte Elijah)

Kelly Nicholas said Doxtator is kindhearted and generous, someone who celebrates the cycles of creation and embodies the Oneida notion of konolukhwahsla

"That is what she brought a lot of," Nicholas said. "She brings knowledge, but it is always with a good heart, a good mind, a good way about her, what we call konolukhwahsla, a love for our people." 

Nicholas, who is Diana Doxtator's cousin, has tried to help raise funds for the family, raffling off some of the traditional skirts she makes to help. 

Ben Robinson, a friend of the family, calls Doxtator "the most empathetic person I've ever met." 

Beside that, Doxtator is also hilarious. "When you're around her, you laugh non-stop," said Chris Elijah, who calls Doxtator 'mom.' 

"I didn't grow up with my family, I was a child of the 60s scoop, a grown man when I found my way back, and she just welcomed me back, shared stories with me, looked after me." 

You don't walk by her without giving her a hug. It's just warmth around her." 

"She's like the meaning of community. She's a backbone," said Chris Elijah. "She would do anything for any of us." 

Doxtator's daughter wants people who don't know her mom to rally behind her, and all those with COVID.