At the end of 2020, a 36-year-old former tribal police officer died from COVID-19. He was to be buried in Kongiganak, a burial which his family in Akiachak couldn’t attend because of travel restrictions. Here’s a story about how people are finding new ways to say goodbye to their loved ones during the pandemic.
David Aqvang Evon grew up in Akiachak, then moved to Kongiganak where he worked as a tribal police officer. Last year, he and his family moved to Fairbanks because of his daughter’s health issues.
On Dec. 20, David tested positive for COVID-19 and was diagnosed with pneumonia. But even then, his mother, Olinka Evon, said that she wasn’t worried since he called her on Christmas Day.
“He let me watch his children open presents,” Evon said. “And I thought everything was okay. But the next day he didn't wake up.”
An ambulance arrived the day after Christmas to transport David to the hospital in Fairbanks. His kidney began to fail, then other organs followed. On Dec. 29, his family made the decision to take him off life support. David Aqvang Evon was 36 years old. His daughter was also hospitalized with COVID-19, but has since recovered.
David’s body was to be buried in Kongiganak, where his wife and children will be moving back to, but his mother in Akiachak wanted to say goodbye. She asked Grant Aviation to do a “fly-by” with David's body over Akiachak before going on to Kongiganak.
Grant pilot Andy Fox gladly obliged. With David’s body on board, he flew three circuits around Akiachak. Olinka got to be with her son one more time, a few hundred feet below.
“I was crying. I was saying 'I love you Aqvang,'” Evon said.
She described David as a caring husband and father, respectful to his parents and Elders, and loved by friends and family, many of whom were watching David fly over them.
“When he flew over, it was like a sigh of relief,” Evon said. “Even though we didn’t get to see him, at least we got to wave at him and say our farewells. I’m so thankful for that.”
As the plane continued to Kongiganak, Andy Fox, the pilot wrote on a Facebook post that the weather was hazy that day. But as he approached the village, he saw a hole open up in the clouds. Fox wrote that quote “made me think David must wanna come home.” Tears fell from the pilot’s eyes, as he circled the village before landing.
In Kongiganak, Health Aide Marcy Daniel had asked people to remember David, a former tribal police officer, by wearing blue.
“The family and friends can't gather for the usual singing and gathering with the grieving family, so that made me want to try and do something,” Daniel said.
She also asked people to wear purple for Bertha Black, the first person in Kongiganak who died from COVID-19. Purple was Bertha’s favorite color.
Daniel went around town taking pictures of people dressed in blue and purple and uploaded them to a Facebook group called “In Loving Memory of David Peter Aqvang Evon.” Hundreds of people in the village and around the region participated.
When David’s body arrived in Kongiganak, Daniel asked people to feast within their households.
“…With dessert,” Daniel said.
Tribal police officers in Kongiganak, David’s former coworkers, were there at the airport to pick up his body. Chief Leann Miller said that David was someone the community could always count on.
“He was a good cop. I looked up to him. He was always there, and always positive,” Miller said.
The TPOs were the only ones present for the burial of David Aqvang Evon. But even though family and friends couldn’t be there, they found ways to say goodbye.
There is a correction to an earlier version of this story that stated the weather was hazy in Akiachak during the flyover. The poor visibility was actually above Kongiganak, where the plane was transporting David Aqvang Evon to be buried.