Navajo mom and community leader was a ‘beautiful soul’

Michelle Eaglehawk (Photo courtesy of Ani Begay Auld)

Meghan Sullivan

Corrected: PORTRAITS FROM THE PANDEMIC

Meghan Sullivan
Special to Indian Country Today

Michelle Eaglehawk reminded people of home, said her friend, Ani Begay Auld. “Every warm, fuzzy feeling you get when thinking about home.”

Eaglehawk was a founding member of the Navajo Cultural Committee in the Washington, D.C., area, along with Begay Auld. Far from the Navajo communities they grew up in, the two women helped create a vibrant network for Navajo people on the East Coast.

“She was a beautiful soul,” Begay Auld said. “She was always laughing, and she had a very infectious laugh.”

Eaglehawk died Sept. 25 in Nevada at age 48, due to COVID-19. She is survived by her husband and three children.

“She was full of laughter and a contagious smile. Always thinking of different ways of helping the people,” said her husband, Chris.

Begay Auld recalled the first time she met Michelle Eaglehawk, during a committee meeting at Eaglehawk’s house. She was struck by how upbeat and kind Eaglehawk was, bringing out Navajo tea to welcome guests and turning the meeting into a fun event. “She was so hospitable — the epitome of a great Navajo host,” Begay Auld said.

Community work was a central part of Eaglehawk’s life.

Eaglehawk was born in Crownpoint, New Mexico, and her career took her to the Indian Health Services headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, where she served as acting director of the Office of Direct Services and Contracting Tribes. During this time, she advocated for better health care provisions among Alaska Natives and Native Americans.

Before that, she worked as a licensed independent social worker serving in the Tucson, Arizona, Navajo Nation and Great Plains areas. She had started a new job in February as a social worker for Moapa Valley High School and Ute V. Perkins Elementary in Nevada.

She planned to learn more about the education system — and how to best leverage its resources to help students — through her role as a school social worker, according to an article in a local Moapa Valley newspaper.

“She was extremely educated and believed strongly in the power of education,” Begay Auld said.

Eaglehawk graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in justice studies. She then completed two master’s degrees: one in social work from Arizona State University, and another in legal studies from the University of Oklahoma. She had just started working toward her juris doctor at Columbia Law School.

Eaglehawk’s family was always very supportive of her work, Begay Auld said. “And she was so proud of her children. That was a huge highlight of her life.”

Her children recalled fond memories with their mother, such as the time she took them on their first trip to New York City and they watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Eaglehawk’s family hopes to raise awareness of her situation: The mom of three passed away after contracting COVID-19 twice, her husband said in a statement to Indian Country Today. She also was “extremely health conscious” and enjoyed running and exercising, Begay Auld said.

So far, scientists have confirmed only one case of a person in the U.S. being infected twice. A 25-year-old Nevada man tested positive for the virus in April and recovered before testing positive again early June, NPR reported, citing a case study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

“These are facts that need to be out there and need to be known — that just because you had (COVID) once does not mean that you have the antibodies to fight it off again,” said Begay Auld.

Eagelehawk’s family said she first contracted COVID-19 in April.

Over the next few months, she battled a lingering cough and a case of severe pneumonia. She tested positive for COVID-19 again in late August, Chris Eaglehawk said. Per instructions from a hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she self-isolated for 20 days, during which time she succumbed to the virus.

Eaglehawk’s family created the Michelle Eaglehawk Remembrance Fund on GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.

“It’s with a heavy heart we give thanks to our friend, sister, auntie, mother, wife for the joy she brought into the world,” reads the remembrance fund’s page. “May She Rest In Peace on her journey to meet with our Creator.”

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Meghan Fate Sullivan, Koyukon Athabascan, is a writer for Indian Country Today. She grew up in Alaska, and is currently reporting on her home state from our Anchorage Bureau.

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This story has been updated to correct Ani Begay Auld's last name.

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