Payton Canku was all of about five-foot-tall, her mom Rhea told the Moody County Enterprise. But she had dreams of making it big. Somehow, some way.
It may be why Payton gave every day everything she had, Rhea said.
At just 30-years-old, Payton Canku passed away earlier this spring. The 2010 Flandreau High School graduate started having health problems while in her final year of college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2020, Payton was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. She was told that she would need a heart and lung transplant and a heart pump in the meantime. In 2022, after suffering a mild stroke, her doctors discovered Payton had congestive heart failure. Her mother believes that it was perhaps brought on by undiagnosed lupus.
She was not well. Yet, she was so young and full of life, she wanted to and continued to work full-time while also pursuing further education. With encouragement from her uncle and her best friend, Payton applied to enter the Masters Program in ScreenWriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This past weekend would have been her Hooding Ceremony.
Payton’s parents, Rhea and Bill, along with other family, went in her place.
“As her Mother I was very concerned about her health. All of the stress, but Payton wanted to do this. Always in the back of her mind was her Grandpa Donnie McGhee. Even though he passed away in 2016, she always wanted to make him proud. We are Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Members. Payton always wanted to make her Grandpa and our People proud,” said Rhea.
Services in Santa Fe with Payton’s classmates were overwhelming, she added. “For us to see Payton’s classmates crying as they read part of her script on stage as they honored her. For us to be there was also healing for them as they miss her too…This trip was healing for Bill and I. Payton’s Uncle Morris Canku and her Cousin Katlyn Canku also came with us. It was very good for us to see what she had accomplished. She was the only student from the Midwest, most of the students who graduated from the Southwest. We miss her so much. But are so thankful to our friends in the Flandreau Community and Sisseton and other places and of course now the IAIA community for being there.”