Virus tears through Choctaw families

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. — When Sharon Taylor died of coronavirus, her family — standing apart, wearing masks — sang her favorite hymns at her graveside, next to a tiny headstone for her stillborn daughter, buried 26 years ago. 

Fresh flowers marked row after row of new graves. Holy Rosary is one of the only cemeteries in this Choctaw Indian family’s community, and it’s running out of space — a sign of the virus’s massive toll on the Choctaw people. 

As confirmed coronavirus cases skyrocket in Mississippi, the state’s only federally recognized tribe has been devastated. COVID-19 has ripped through Choctaw families, many of whom live together in multigenerational homes. 

Almost 10 percent of the tribe’s roughly 11,000 members have tested positive for the virus. More than 75 have died. The once-flourishing Choctaw economy is stagnant, as the tribal government put in place tighter restrictions than those imposed by the state.

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