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Remembering Reverend Turner of White Earth Nation, who died of COVID

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For more than a year and a half, we've been remembering some of the 800,000 people who've died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and we've asked you to share their stories with us.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today we're remembering the Reverend Irvin Doyle Turner, Netamishkang, The One Who Goes Before His People. He belonged to the Anishinaabe people of the White Earth Nation.

DOYLE TURNER: My father meant so many things to me - a hero figure. He was a friend. He was a guide to me. As I moved through life, I always looked to him and valued his opinion. He parented in a really interesting way where he kind of let me find my way.

STEPHEN TURNER: And he made himself available. If somebody needed something, he answered that call tirelessly. The gospel was an important part of who he was. Serving the wider community, both as a priest and as a chairman - that was the arc of his life.

KELLY: Those are his sons, Doyle and Stephen Turner. The Turner family lived on the White Earth Nation reservation until the early '80s, when the entire family packed their lives up to move to Chicago while Reverend Turner attended seminary school. And then, though it's unusual for the Episcopal Church to send priests they've recently trained back to their home communities, the family returned to Minnesota.

D TURNER: One of the really most beautiful parts of his ministry was they sent him back to the White Earth Reservation to serve the four churches there. And so he got to live his life serving the people that he knew and had grown up with.

CORNISH: Turner's sons say their father taught them everything and that his passing affects them deeply because he connected the family to the land and Ojibwe culture.

D TURNER: My dad taught us both to be hunters, and so when we go out hunting, we walk the land that my great-grandpa hunted. We've got the connection to the land through all of these stories. And that's one of our major losses with that - is he was our story carrier. And that's gone now.

KELLY: According to his sons, Turner found great peace in the woods and love to eat wild rice, fresh walleye, venison and pancakes with peanut butter and maple syrup he harvested himself.

CORNISH: His death was sudden. His sons say their father developed a nagging cough and that, while watching a football game on Sunday, September 12, Turner struggled through halftime before retiring upstairs for a nap. When he woke up, he asked to be taken to the ER, where the family's worst fears were realized. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 even though he was fully vaccinated.

S TURNER: He said to me in the ER - he said, I just want to put my back up against a tree. I miss the woods.

KELLY: Reverend Irvin Doyle Turner was 77 years old when he died of COVID-19 at home on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPPERTIME")

JIM REEVES: (Singing) Many years ago in days of childhood...

CORNISH: And if you'd like us to memorialize a loved one you have lost to COVID-19, find us on Twitter at @NPRATC. There's a pinned tweet at the top of the page.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPPERTIME")

REEVES: (Singing) Then winding down that old familiar pathway, I'd hear my mother call. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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