Photograph by Wayne Lawrence
Photograph by Wayne Lawrence
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The faces of COVID-19's toll

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

Detroit police officer LaVondria Herbert and her husband, firefighter Ebbie Herbert, are coping with the unimaginable loss of their five-year-old daughter, Skylar Herbert, who became the first child to die of COVID-19 in Michigan. Skylar, whose image is on her mother’s face mask (above), loved princess dresses and dreamed of becoming a pediatric dentist.

Elaine Fields knew something was seriously wrong when she started cooking the favorite foods of her husband of 45 years, Eddie Fields, and he wouldn’t eat. She says it was terrible to take him to the hospital “and drop him like a sack of potatoes.” She laments that he still has not had a proper burial. She also lost her mother in law to COVID-19.

In a third household, Biba Adams (pictured at left below) is on a quest to let the world that her 70-year-old mother, Elaine Head, was a person, not a number. Adams, in this absorbing video, is furious about the loss of her mother, grandmother, and aunt to COVID-19.

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This Thanksgiving, how do we honor the lives lost? At a park hundreds of miles away, nearly 257,000 white flags flutter, one each to mark those who have perished. In the Washington, D.C. field outside RFK Stadium (below), volunteers add thousands more flags every day, a reflection of the latest wave of death to rip through America.

Families who have lost loved ones want more than to honor them; they also are trying to come to terms with the unfairness, unpreparedness, and lack of coordinated response that could have saved lives. “It’s has changed my life forever,” Adams says, “and there are tens of thousands of families just like us.”

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Today in a minute

Good news: A third COVID-19 vaccine candidate has reported strong results. The late-stage success fo AstraZeneca’s vaccine has given hope to public health officials looking for an option that is cheaper and easier to distribute than its rivals, the AP reports. See our updated look at vaccines under development.

When a president won’t leave: No American head of state has refused to relinquish power at term’s end. It’s unlikely to happen now, experts tell Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever. The Constitution doesn’t specifically address such a scenario, but it does protect against it, says NYU constitutional law prof Rick Pildes. On January 20, he said, the newly inaugurated president can order the military or Secret Service to physically remove the outgoing president from the White House.

Not winner take all:
In all but two states in America, if your presidential candidate doesn’t win your state, your vote is lost in the Electoral College. Nebraska is different, in large part due to an iconoclast who fought for years to save an electoral vote for the winner of each congressional district in his state. Thanks to longtime lawmaker Ernie Chambers, one electoral vote in his red state went to Joe Biden, just as, halfway across the nation, one electoral vote in blue Maine went for Donald Trump. Chambers tells Nat Geo’s Oliver Whang that if we can't ditch the unrepresentative Electoral College, at least we should name electors proportionate to the vote.

A VP first, long before Kamala Harris: The vice president-elect is the first woman, African American, and South Asian American to become the nation’s No. 2. But she is not the first VP of color. That distinction belongs to Charles Curtis, a member of the Kaw Nation, who was elected in 1928 on the ticket with President Herbert Hoover. Curtis, who grew up in North Topeka, Kansas, was the great-great grandson of White Plume, a Kaw chief who offered to help the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804.

New memorial: The latest monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a tribute to Native American veterans. Native Americans, such as the Navajo “code walkers” of World War II, have made huge contributions, and a separate monument has been in the works for a quarter century, NPR reports. “We wish for this to be a sacred place, not just for Native Americas, but for all Americans,” says Kevin Gover, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

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A declaration of unity: The Hiawatha Belt is one of the most important symbols of democracy in the world. It represents the union of Native Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. The confederacy is believed to be the longest-living democracy in the world. A powerful influence on the United States’ Founding Fathers, it is responsible for some of the ideas that American democracy is founded on. John and David Fadden, Mohawk tribal members, run the Six Nations Indian Museum in New York State, keeping a living history of Haudenosaunee culture, including replica wampum treaty belts like the Hiawatha Belt. Readers, we’ll have more on another major Iroquois contribution—lacrosse—later in this newsletter.

The big takeaway

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50 years of peace: An alliance of necessity between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe lasted for decades, allowing English settlers to take root in modern-day Massachusetts and the Wampanoag key support against Native American rivals. “Life was brutal,” historian David Silverman tells Nat Geo. “If you walked into either the Plymouth colony or a Wampanoag village during the 1600s, the first thing you’d see at the entrance would be severed body parts and decapitated heads.” Writer Bill Newcott examines the relationship, and for subscribers of Nat Geo’s History magazine, Silverman writes about the Wampanoag’s shrewd, strategic community leader, known as Massasoit. (Pictured above, a rendering of the Pilgrims’ landing in Plymouth Bay.)

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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More than a game: Lacrosse is believed to have begun 1,000 years ago, from Native Americans. Part religion to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), lacrosse is vying to become an Olympic sport by the 2028 Games in Los Angeles. And among the teams wanting to compete is the Iroquois Nationals, the squad from the six allied tribal nations that cross the U.S. and Canadian border in a corner of northeast North America. The team’s star is Lyle Thompson (above), 28, a Nike-sponsored pro who is one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time. “This is our gift to the world,” Thompson tells writer Wayne Drehs. Yet international organizations have prohibited the Iroquois to compete using their own passport (bottom left), without an accompanying U.S. or Canadian passport. That’s what happened to the Nationals in 2010 (bottom right, shown practicing then in Staten Island), because U.K. authorities refused to accept their passports for the World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester, England.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse has selected the photos. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.