Message #224:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Volcanic Ashes
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 11:19:31 -0700


http://www.azcentral.com/news/

Navajos: Scatter ashes elsewhere 
In Navajo culture, disrupting the dead or holding other religious
ceremonies near the dead are considered a major cultural taboo, one
believed capable of causing physiological or physical problems. That's why
medicine men are warning people not to trek to the San Francisco Peaks and
other sacred areas to scatter the ashes of dead relatives. Funeral ashes
strewn on the peaks have desecrated what is considered by the Navajos to be
sacred ground. 


http://www.azcentral.com/news/0613navajo.shtml

Navajos: Scattering human ashes defiles sacred ground
By Bill Donovan Special for The Republic June 13, 1997 
FLAGSTAFF - For centuries, Navajo families have traveled to the nearby San
Francisco Peaks with offerings for good health and a happy life. Medicine
men, however, now are warning families to halt these spiritual trips.
Funeral ashes scattered on the peaks have desecrated what is considered by
the Navajos to be sacred ground. "You cannot ask for a blessing from a
sacred mountain strewn with a dead person's ashes," said Sammie Slivers
Sr., president of the Dine Spiritual and Cultural Association, a network of
reservation medicine men. In Navajo culture, disrupting the dead or holding
other religious ceremonies near the dead are considered a major cultural
taboo, one believed capable of causing physiological or physical problems.
The only way to undo the harm is by an expensive cleansing ceremony. The
controversy began this month when medicine men were told that the ashes of
a Navajo woman who had died in a car accident in Phoenix had been sprinkled
in May on the peaks. Last week, by the time the medicine men learned the
reports were false, they had already consulted a hand trembler on what
steps should be taken to cleanse the mountain. In Navajo cultures, a hand
trembler has divine powers and is considered capable of locating a missing
person or object by casting sacred objects to the ground and passing their
trembling hands over a person's body to determine the cause of an illness.
The hand trembler told tribal leaders that the peaks were filled with
cremated remains and that an immediate purification ceremony was necessary
to counteract the desecration on the peaks. U.S. Forest Service officials
near Flagstaff don't need a hand trembler to tell them about ashes being
spread on the peaks. Forest Service Officer John Nelson said that although
there are federal laws prohibiting the burial of anyone in a national
forest or the sprinkling of ashes, it occurs all the time. Last month, for
example, Forest Service officials removed a monument at Lockett Meadows
near the top of the peaks. A Flagstaff man admitted that he had secretly
buried his son's ashes in the meadows two years ago. Because of the peaks'
vast areas and the lack of policing manpower, Nelson said that the Forest
Service has no way of stopping a burial. Slivers said this shows a lack of
respect for the Navajos who view the peaks in much the same way that others
view the church they attend on Sundays. The problem extends beyond the
peaks. The tribe receives requests all the time to sprinkle ashes over
portions of the Navajo Reservation, usually in scenic areas such as Canyon
de Chelly and Monument Valley, said Alan Downer, director of historic
preservation for the tribe. "We tell them to take the ashes somewhere
else," he said. The response is based on culture, said Daniel Deschinny,
secretary of the tribe's spiritual society. But there is also a practical
reason. Navajos can spend several thousand dollars on a medicine man for a
purification ceremony, and now such a ceremony is a must, tribal officials
said. Deschinny said the association believes it is necessary to provide
traditional Navajos assurances that their prayers and ceremonies at the
peaks will be effective. So, a purification ceremony is now scheduled for
today and Saturday at Ganado, a small Navajo community about 120 miles
northeast of the peaks. After the ceremony, the medicine men plan to take
offerings not only to the peaks but to the other three sacred mountains of
the Navajos. They are Mount Taylor near Grants, N.M.; Mount Hesperus near
Durango, Colo.; and Mount Blanco near Charma, N.M. 


[ Always a touchy situation these cremations.  About fiften years ago
during an archaeological survey of Saguaro National Monument East (Tucson),
our survey crew discovered a modern cremation near the lower loop road
[metal fillings, surgical screws, teeth and bone fragments, etc]. We
informed the ranger and the ranger informed the Sheriff.  Two deputies came
out and picked up parts and put them in a manilla envelope (A pretty stupid
idea!), but they didn't pick up everything.  Now some parts of the fellow
are still on the ground in the park and I suspect that other parts are
stuffed in that manilla envelope in the back of some forgotten filing
cabinet drawer at the sheriff's substation.  Years ago a Japanese author
wrote that a particular patch of forest was a good place to commit suicide,
and then, numbers of angst-ridden Japanese showed up at the spot to do just
that.  Perhaps here, the US Forest Service and the Navajo can solve their
problem by asking Tony Hillerman to write a book suggesting alternate
locations for cremation discard! -- SASIG Ed. ]