Family fights to bury loved one in cemetery on tribal land

Created: 06/10/2014 6:35 PM
By: Kai Porter, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A woman's dying wish was to be buried with her daughter in a small cemetery near Española. But the woman's family says the wish isn't coming true, because the cemetery is on land that now belongs to Santa Clara Pueblo.

Nancy Henry said her sister, Sue, passed away two years ago.

Sue always wanted to be buried with her only daughter, Christie, who died shortly after she was born in 1974.

"She told us, 'The only thing I'm ever going to ask of any of you is to bury me with Christie. When I go I want to be with my daughter. I couldn't hold her in the hospital. I want to be buried with her. And I'll hold her in heaven,'" said Henry.

She said Christie was buried in a cemetery that was once public. But forty years later, the road leading to the cemetery is fenced off, since the cemetery sits on land belonging to the Santa Clara Pueblo.

"I want to dig a hole, place my sister's ashes in that hole, cover it up and set a head stone. That's all I want to do,” said Henry. “We're not asking to hold a service. We're not asking for a religious thing. We just want to take Susie home."

But Santa Clara Pueblo has repeatedly denied the family’s requests to do that. Henry said dozens of her other family members are also buried there, and her sister should be too.

"I will do whatever I have to do to get them to wake up and see we're not asking them to spend a dime. We're asking them to turn a key. That's all we're asking them to do," she said.

Edward Calabaza, a spokesman for Santa Clara Pueblo, told KOB Eyewitness News 4 the decision to deny the request was made by the Tribal Council for cultural reasons.

"We do look for resolutions in this case," said Calabaza. "We understand this is a woman's dying wish. We understand this is a grieving family. We understand they want to make things right. We don't want to close our doors. We want to have open conversations with this family. But at this point the Tribal Council feels the matter is closed."

But until she can bury her sister in the cemetery, Henry said she and her family won’t give up.

"Just let me send my sister home with her daughter."

Henry now lives in Roswell but her family is originally from Española. She said many of her other relatives are also buried in the cemetery.

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