You might think you’d never come down with the coronavirus, but when someone your age not only becomes infected, but dies of it, the reality sinks home.

Just the other day, I found out a former classmate of mine at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe died from COVID-19. We both graduated from IAIA in 1996 and were about the same age, 48.

I had last seen Rance Sneed in 2018 in Albuquerque after a recent Indian Art Market festival in Santa Fe. We met at a mutual friend’s apartment and had lunch downtown. Afterward, he flew back to Phoenix, and I to Manhattan, Kan., where I was living.

Going to school at a national arts college, Rance had friends literally coast-to-coast, from New York to California and points in between, like in Standing Rock, S.D., where he supported the Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Pipeline project and made many new friends.

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Now those friends and our college classmates will have to come to terms with the fact that, yes, the virus can kill you, too, no matter what age.

You hear about people your age dying or becoming infected, but it just doesn’t become reality until you or a family member has it.

Rance was considered healthy, skateboarding or riding a bike almost daily. It was his favorite way of getting around in Phoenix. He felt bad, even posting on Facebook about terrible headaches he was suffering, saying they felt like the worst hangovers ever, although he had quit drinking many years prior.

Family and friends told him to go to the hospital, but he thought with one more night at home he’d get better and pull out of it.

But Rance, Gila River Pima and Hopi, died in his sleep on July 6, about 11 days after first reporting symptoms. I don’t think he ever received his test results from his tribe before he passed away.

I and other friends sure took this as a wakeup call to be more observant about wearing masks, physical distancing and washing hands.

They might seem like small unnecessary things, but they are the least things you can do to show respect for your neighbors and for friends like Rance who have passed on.

About the author

Eddie Chuculate has won the PEN/O. Henry Prize and Pushcart Prize citations for his short fiction. A Creek and Cherokee Indian from Muskogee, Okla., he holds a degree in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and was the second Native American to have held the Wallace Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. After working as a pecan picker and furniture mover, Chuculate became a reporter and editor at various newspapers, including in Denver, Tulsa, Albuquerque and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. He is currently a copy editor at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.



Indigenous Voices

This video is part of the "Voices" portion of the "Indiginous Impacts" project. "Voices" features Native American community members as they discuss and write about personal and social effects of the coronavirus pandemic.