Navajo Nation mourns death of former pageant titleholder and tribal employee to COVID-19

Coronavirus Updates

KAYENTA, Ariz. (ABC4 News) – Navajo Nation is mourning the loss of former Miss Western Navajo and tribal employee, Valentina Blackhorse, who passed away Thursday at the young age of 28 to COVID-19.

As their second 57-hour weekend curfew came to an end Monday morning, Navajo Nation continued to feel the brutal hit of COVID-19. The reservation, which spans across parts of three states, has surpassed 1,700 positive cases and their death roll remains at 59. It ranks as the area with the third-highest infection rate in the U.S., trailing only behind New York and New Jersey.

President Jonathan Nez said in an online statement that at the time of Blackhorse’s death, she was employed with Division of Community Development and devoted much of her time to helping the Nation’s 110 chapters.

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“Valentina was a loving person who gave so much to her Nation and her Diné people. Our Nation’s leaders were very saddened to learn about her passing,” he said.

Blackhorse held multiple titles during her pageant career, including Miss Kayenta Community 2003 School, Miss Monument Valley High School 2008-2009, Miss Diné College 2011-2012, and Miss Western Navajo 2015-2016. She also ran for Miss Indian World 2017.

“She had a great passion for competing in pageants and was well-known in that circle. She had an immense love for sharing her Navajo culture,” said family members.

In a FaceTime interview with ABC4 News Monday, Blackhorse’s sister, Vanielle said their family was still in shock and trying to process her death.

“The virus does not discriminate in any way. It doesn’t care where you come from, your age, your health, or what race you are. Unfortunately, my sister was an example of that. She was only 28 years old and her health was good. But it took her life,” she said.

Family members said they were not sure when Blackhorse became ill with COVID-19 as she initially told family members that she just had a cold. But they said she was taking care of her boyfriend, Robby Jones who had the virus before she tested positive herself.

They are urging community members to comply with stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices to help minimize the spread of the virus.

“It frustrates me to see people gathering in groups or hanging out at the store,” said Blackhorse’s sister, Vanielle. “They need to take this seriously.”

Blackhorse is survived by her parents, Danny and Laverne; her sisters, Victoria and Vanielle; her boyfriend, Robby; and her one-year-old daughter, Poet.

“She was a wonderful, strong, beautiful mother, sister, daughter, and granddaughter. She loved her family with all her heart. She was a very helpful person to her family. She always bought things for her nephew, nieces, her sister, and most important, her parents,” her sister, Victoria told ABC4 News through text. “We’re going to miss everything about her.”

She added, “Valentina loved to learn new things within her Navajo culture and wanted to pass that along to her daughter. She helped others a lot through pageants and her job. She was a very silly person who loved to laugh, joke around, and tease her family and friends.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser has been set up to help Blackhorse’s family with funeral expenses. If you would like to donate, click here.

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