Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

On the eve of their inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris participated in an event honoring lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 400,000 people have died in the country, including many Indigenous and people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Tuesday evening’s memorial in Washington, D.C., surrounded the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with 400 lights. It marked the first-ever lighting of the reflecting pool, according to the inaugural committee.

Around the nation, hundreds of cities, tribes and landmarks held tributes of their own, including the Empire State Building in New York and the Space Needle in Seattle.

In Billings, Montana, a teepee will be illuminated on top of Sacrifice Hill in Swords Park to honor Native lives lost to the virus.

“Today we return home, seeking refuge in our teepees, our beacons of hope. We share our grief, hope, strength and resolve with all those who have traveled on and those still among us,” said Tom Rodgers who is Blackfeet and president of the Global Indigenous Council.

Sacrifice Hill is reportedly named in honor of two Crow warriors who rode horses over the cliff to their deaths. They were returning from a scouting mission to find their loved ones among the dead at a tribal camp nearly wiped out by a smallpox outbreak in the mid-19th century, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council said.

“We will remember those taken by a merciless pestilence, and when we will tell their stories we will speak of how they lived when they walked among us,” Rodgers said.

Indian Country Today has documented Indigenous lives lost in our series “Portraits from the Pandemic.”

Those stories highlight community members like Michelle Eaglehawk, a Navajo mother who died from the virus in September. She was a community worker who helped create a vibrant network for Navajo people living and working in the East Coast.

(Related: Navajo mom and community leader was a ‘beautiful soul’)

In October, 17-year-old Elvia “Rose” Ramirez died after falling ill from the coronavirus. She was getting ready to graduate from Parshall High School in North Dakota with ultimate goals of teaching Native American history someday.

(Related: Teenager was always smiling)

This summer a South Dakota family lost four members within a short period. Kenneth L. Jewett Jr., Wesley D. "Shep" Fire Cloud, Ethel Left Hand Bull and Randolph “Randy” His Law Jr. lost their lives to the virus.

(Related: COVID devastates South Dakota family)

To read more stories from the series, visit https://indiancountrytoday.com/obituaries/.

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com.

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