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Remembering Navajo Nation's Valentina Blackhorse, Who Died From COVID At 28


The coronavirus is ravaging the Navajo Nation, which spans portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Over 2,000 members have been infected, and at least 70 have died. Among them was Valentina Blackhorse, who died at the age of 28 on April 23. She left behind a daughter named Poet and a legacy of fierce dedication to her culture and her community.

Her younger sister, Vanielle Blackhorse, joins us now from Kayenta, Ariz., to tell us more about her sister. And let me just start by saying I'm very sorry for your loss.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It must have been a shock. She was so young.

BLACKHORSE: It was. It was a shock, and it was very sudden.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your sister aspired to be a leader. Can you tell us about her work in the community?

BLACKHORSE: Well, she did a lot of giveaways, and how she would do that was through essay contests. She would have children write essays on why the Navajo culture is important or Navajo language going - and she would sit there and read each and every essay. And she would give back-to-school supplies or Thanksgiving or Christmas - a complete meal for just a whole family.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it was important to her to have the culture be celebrated.

BLACKHORSE: You know, she was very big on that. And she wanted the younger generation to know and learn their language because the older generation - a majority of them speak and understand Navajo. And she was fluent in her language, and she could hold a conversation with the elders.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I also understand she won several pageant titles.

BLACKHORSE: She started at a very young age, and she just kept going. And the last title she ran for was Miss Indian World. And then after that, she - a year later, she started her family.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Navajo Nation has been among the hardest-hit communities here in the United States by the virus. President Trump is due to visit Arizona this week. Is there anything you'd like him to know or see about how your community is coping?

BLACKHORSE: If he can see firsthand how much Navajo Nation is struggling during this pandemic, how much people we have lost - that's what I would like for him to see firsthand.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your sister left behind a 1-year-old daughter, and she's the same age as your daughter, right?

BLACKHORSE: Yeah, they're two weeks apart.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you talk about what you wanted for your daughters - what your hopes are? And what will happen to her daughter now?

BLACKHORSE: Well, my sister and I would always talk about going to their first day of school together, from start to finish, till they graduate; going to enter in - our kids in pageants, being there to witness that together. And as far as raising her daughter, we're going to raise her daughter just how her mom would - to impact the Navajo language and culture in her, to have her daughter have long hair just as my sister did.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What will you tell Poet, Valentina's daughter, about her mother?

BLACKHORSE: That her mom was kind, loving, caring, ambitious, heartwarming person, as well as silly. Her mom had a great sense of humor.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Vanielle Blackhorse telling us about her sister Valentina Blackhorse, whose life was taken by COVID-19.

Thank you.

BLACKHORSE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.