Dykeman Roebuck Archaeology LLC Policy for the Protection of Jishchaa'

Grave sites, Human Remains and Funerary Items

Navajo Nation Jishchaa' Policy Statement:

Diné (Navajo) society is based on harmony and beauty. Issues related to death are treated with the utmost respect in our culture. In harmony with the Diné way of life, we do not talk about or discuss death. We avoid burial sites and do not handle materials belonging to one who is deceased. The Diné view is that human remains, associated funerary items, and unassociated funerary items all fit under jishchaa', a term that refers to things that are associated with death as well as the burial itself.

Due to the circumstances of modern life, we find it necessary to establish rules and regulations concerning the protection of gravesites, human remains, and funerary items. We do this with complete and full awareness of the wide range of Diné values, beliefs, and practices. We apologize to those who have passed on for the intrusion. We apologize to the living for all the discomfort this subject causes.

This policy outlines procedures based on Diné cultural beliefs. The Navajo Nation is committed to protecting all gravesites. human remains, and funerary items under its jurisdiction. Human remains and funerary items, once interred, should not be disinterred. However, the Navajo Nation recognizes that under certain circumstances disinterment will occur. In these situations the human remains and funerary items must be reinterred as quickly as possible and as near to the original burial location as is feasible. Except under extraordinary circumstances, analysis of human remains is restricted to in-field non-destructive visual determination of age and sex for the purpose of locating lineal descendants. Records about human remains and funerary items or their location shall be maintained and safeguarded in the Cultural Resource Compliance Section (CRCS) at the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department for use in project planning and appropriate related activities.

In the absence of identified lineal descendants, all Native American human remains and funerary items identified on Diné land are the responsibility of the Navajo Nation. The Historic Preservation Officer shall determine treatment of human remains without identified lineal descendants and/or funerary items in consultation with other tribes, as appropriate. We expect that other tribes will make a reciprocal commitment. The Navajo Nation encourages the development of programmatic agreements with federal agencies and other tribes. The Navajo Nation Expects all human remains and funerary items to be treated with the utmost respect from the time they are discovered until their final disposition.

II Authority

This policy is implemented pursuant to the Navajo Nation Cultural Resources Protection Act (CRPA, CMY=19-88). It is intended to complement provisions set forth in the Native American Graves Protection Act of 1990 (NAGPRA, P.L. 101-601). The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA, P.L. 96-95), The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA, P.L. 89-665, as amended), and others.

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IV. Traditional Concerns

Diné traditional and spiritual values shall be observed in dealing with human remains, and associated funerary items, burials, and/or the relocation and transfer of gravesites. Diné teachings discourage the direct handling of human remains. Development projects, such as the construction and maintenance of roads, power lines, and water lines, often disturb burials. In such instances, the Navajo Nation must take steps to ensure the protection of human remains. It must also protect its people from association with human remains. The concerns listed below should therefore be taken into consideration in dealing with gravesites, human remains, and funerary items.

A. All individuals involved in burial issues must be warned that handling human remains or funerary items, direct exposure to gravesites, or discussion of burial issues may affect their overall health in the immediate future, or sometime during their lifetime. For example, soil associated with a burial is considered contaminated by death. Procedures such as brushing bones or funerary items, taking soil samples, and disarticulating bones are therefore considered both offensive and dangerous. Knowledgeable Diné should be consulted regarding appropriate protective measures.

B. Individuals involved with burial issues will come into contact with the Navajo public after they have been in contact with gravesites, human remains, or funerary items and that contact may affect the health of other individuals. They should take measures to protect the public and themselves when disinterring and/or reinterring human remains or when in contact with gravesites. If individuals, sponsors, or their agents need assistance or information regarding protective measures, they should contact the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department Traditional Cultural Program.

C. Pregnant women, or individuals in daily contact with them, should not be directly involved in the handling, removal, or intimate discussion of gravesites, human remains, or funerary items.

D. Funerary items must be treated with respect. They have been placed with the human remains for essential reasons and should not be handled casually, collected, removed, or separated from the human remains.

E. Traditional Diné avoid gravesites, human remains, and funerary items. They do not talk about someone who has passed on, and they do not carelessly mention or discuss death. Researchers need to be aware that the Diné may be extremely uncomfortable even talking about the topic, may not be willing to visit the gravesite, and should not be interviewed over and over regarding the same topic.

F. Sponsors and others should limit the number of individuals who come into contact with gravesites, human remains, or funerary items.

V. Encountering Gravesites, Human Remains, and Funerary Items

A. The Navajo Nation requires sponsors to make good faith efforts to locate gravesites, human remains, and funerary items within the area of potential effect prior to initiation of an undertaking. Such good faith effort shall include the following:

1. file searches of existing information, including files maintained at HPD (contact CRCS), mission records, and other materials as appropriate.

2. archaeological inventory and ethnographic interviews with residents of the local community and with other knowledgeable individuals. Navajo Nation permitting procedures require that investigators contact local chapters prior to initiating field activities (Navajo Nation Policy to Protect Traditional Cultural Properties, 1989). Continuing contact may be appropriate to ensure that local concerns are addressed.

3. other approaches, such as traditional diagnostic techniques, as necessary or appropriate. Traditional practitioners may provide such information.

B. When an inadvertent discovery occurs in the context of an undertaking but outside the context of intentional excavation, the sponsor shall adhere to the following procedures.

1. All ground-disturbing activities shall immediately cease within a 50-foot (15.2 - meter) radius, using the discovery as the center point.

2. The sponsor or its agent must contact CRCS within one (1) business day to arrange for proper evaluation and consultation.

3. The sponsor or its agent shall identify itself and its project and shall supply the following information:

a. a verbal description of what has been found and the context in which remains are located

b. the general location of the gravesite, human remains, and/or funerary items; and

c. any other pertinent information.

4. Verbal notification shall immediately be followed by written notification. HPD will attempt to respond promptly so as not to cause project delays.

5. Human remains and funerary items must be protected in place until treatment measures are implemented. Treatment measures shall be consistent with Part VII of this policy

6. The Sponsor or its agent may resume ground disturbing activities only after a proposed treatment plan has been agreed upon and implemented.

C. When an inadvertent discovery occurs within the context of intentional excavation, the sponsor shall adhere to the following procedures.

1. All trenching, hand excavation sampling, photography, etc. shall cease within a 10-foot (3-meter) radius of the discovery after the nature and the extent of buried remains have been determined.

2. The sponsor or its agent must contact CRCS within one (1) business day to arrange for proper evaluation and consultation.

3. The sponsor or its agent shall identify itself and its project and shall supply the following information:

a. a verbal description of what has been found and the context in which remains are located

b. the general location of the gravesite, human remains, and/or funerary items;

c. a preliminary assessment of the type of burial it is (Diné, Anaasázi, other);

d. an assessment of the complexity of the burials(s) and the likelihood of disturbance if left in place;

e. a proposed location for reburial, if applicable, and

f. any other pertinent information.

4. Verbal notification shall immediately be followed by written notification. HPD will attempt to respond promptly so as not to cause project delays.

5. Human remains and funerary items must be protected in place until treatment measures are implemented. Treatment measures shall be consistent with Part VII of this policy

6. The Sponsor or its agent may resume ground disturbing activities only after a proposed treatment plan has been agreed upon and implemented.

D. When CRCS is notified of an inadvertent discovery of human remains outside the context of an undertaking:

1. CRCS shall ask the notifying party to provide

a. a verbal description of what was found and the context in which remains are located

b. the general location of the gravesite, human remains, and/or funerary items; and

c. any other pertinent information.

2. CRCS shall determine on a case-by-case basis whether HPD will assume responsibility for treatment.

VI. Identification of Gravesites, Human Remains, and Funerary Items

A. Once gravesites, human remains, and funerary items are located, a good faith efforts shall be made to determine through contextual analysis, interview, non-destructive visual inspection, and other appropriate means whether the remains represent:

1. a burial with lineal descendants;

2. a Diné burial for whom lineal descendants cannot be identified or located;

3. a Native American burial for whom lineal descendants cannot be identified or located (including Anaasázi burials, burials of individuals from other tribes, and unidentified burials); or

4. a non-Native American burial for whom lineal descendants cannot be identified.

B. Non-destructive visual inspection of human remains shall be limited to determination of age (of both the individual and the interment), sex, and cultural affiliation. To the greatest extent possible, such visual inspection shall be performed without handling, brushing off, or disarticulating remains. 

C. Initial identification efforts may require consultation with Diné elders and other residents and non-residents who may have knowledge about the identity and/or cultural affiliation of the remains. When the remains are clearly Anaasázi, such consultation is not necessary. Chapter officials must be notified prior to initiating local consultation. All identification efforts must respect the culturally sensitive nature of discussions regarding human remains.

D. In cases where no lineal descendants have been identified, the sponsor (in the case of an undertaking) must use all information available, including physical evidence as well as word of mouth, to determine the probable age at death and of interment and the sex of the individual buried at this location. Specialists such as physical anthropologists may be required to collect and analyze this information. One should err in the direction of greater age estimates for the date of interment when do firm data are available. Following the provisions of ARPA and the Resolution of the Parks Commission, Navajo Tribal Council (April 8, 1980), remains shall be considered "archaeological resources" only if they are, or are suspected to be, 100 years of age or older.

VII. Procedures for Treatment of Human Remains and Funerary Items

The policy of the Navajo Nation is that gravesites, human remains, and funerary items should not be disturbed. In cases where disturbance is unavoidable, treatment procedures will vary depending on the results of consultations with lineal descendants, culturally affiliated tribes, or appropriate entities. In the case of an undertaking, all costs related to treatment shall be borne by the sponsor.

In all cases, only non-destructive, in-field visual analysis to determine age and sex of individuals shall be allowed. At no time shall the remains or funerary items leave the project area. All analysis shall take place on site. No soil samples of any kind shall be taken from within one foot (0.3 m) of human remains. Human remains shall not be brushed unless absolutely necessary to make age and sex determinations. Depictions (sketches, drawings, etc.) of gravesites, human remains, and funerary items shall not appear in the body of any report; however, a map showing the orientation of the remains and associated funerary items shall be provided in a confidential appendix. Site maps in the body of the report should identify all features, including burials, but detailed illustrations are not allowed.

Photographs of gravesites and human remains are prohibited. In cases where funerary items are to be reinterred and may be susceptible to theft, photographs of funerary items may be permitted in consultation with HPD. All photographs and negatives shall become the property of HPD, to be kept on file should ARPA investigation be necessary.

If circumstances require that human remains be disinterred, an ARPA permit is required if the burial is at least 100 years old. ARPA permits are issued through the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the consent of the Navajo Nation. A Class "C" Navajo Nation Cultural Resources Investigation Permit is also required. It may take up to 30 days to obtain ARPA and/or Class "C" permits. Navajo Nation employees engaged in Navajo Nation business and Navajo traditional healers are exempt from permit requirements.

A. Burials with Lineal Descendants

If the deceased has known lineal descendants, regardless of cultural affiliation, consultation shall be conducted directly with the lineal descendants. Cultural resource professionals should take traditional Diné kinship into account when they determine lineal descendants.  If the deceased was a member of another tribe, consultation with lineal descendants shall proceed only after contacting HPD and only after HPD has initiated government-to-government relations with such other tribes.

In consultation with HPD, the sponsor or its agent shall document the concerns of lineal descendants regarding the burial and shall record their wishes regarding treatment of the human remains and/or funerary items on a Statement of Wishes form (see Attachments). This form must be used to record the wishes of lineal descendants regarding treatment of the burial.

Results of consultation with lineal descendants shall be held in confidence among the sponsor, cultural resource professional, HPD, and the lineal descendants. Sponsors and their agents shall not provide any information collected during consultation with lineal descendants to anyone other than HPD (and the lineal descendants, as requested). Upon completion of the project, sponsors and their agents shall turn over all records to HPD.

Documentation shall be provided to HPD that the decision made by the closest lineal descendant was made without any improper influence or pressure and was based upon full knowledge of all options available to them. This documentation must be initiated and performed by the sponsor or its agent, in the presence of or with the participation of a trained cultural resource professional approved by HPD. The cultural resource professional should work closely with any and all appropriate local residents, officials, elders, and traditional healers; should be familiar with policies related to the protection of human remains; should be knowledgeable regarding local history and customs; and must abide by professional standards and ethics. The cultural resource professional shall act as a witness to the documentation. Statement of Wishes forms are available from CRCS.

B. Diné Burials without Lineal Descendants

In cases where Diné burials are identified but where it is not possible to locate lineal descendants, the local chapter may serve as proxy for lineal descendants. In order to determine whether the Chapter wishes to serve as proxy, the sponsor or its agent, in consultation with HPD, shall consult with Chapter officials to determine procedures to be followed regarding information to the Chapter as a whole. Normally, this determination should be made within five (5) working days. If the Chapter determines that it wishes to serve as proxy, the sponsor shall follow the procedures delineated in section VII.A. If the Chapter determines that it does not wish to serve as proxy, the sponsor or its agent shall consult with HPD, and HPD shall make decisions regarding treatment in accordance with procedures established in Section VII.C. All costs related to treatment shall be borne by the sponsor. Upon completion of the project, the sponsor and its agent shall turn over all records to HPD.

C. Other Native American Burials without Lineal Descendants

In the absence of lineal descendants, all Native American human remains identified on Diné lands are the responsibility of the Navajo Nation [NAGPRA, 1990: Sec. 3(a)(2)(A)]. Such human remains may include Anaasázi burials, non-Diné burials without lineal descendants but for whom cultural affiliation is known, and unidentified Native American burials. In cases where consultation with other tribes is required, consultation shall occur in coordination with HPD and treatment shall remain consistent with this policy. ARPA and Class "C" permits must be in hand before initiating excavation. Navajo Nation employees engaged in Navajo Nation business and Navajo traditional healers are exempt from permit requirements.

Treatment Plan

Human remains and funerary items, once interred, should not be disinterred. If the burial is in no danger of impact, its location shall be documented and remains shall be protected as necessary. Documentation shall be provided to HPD. If the burial is in danger of impact, the sponsors must exhaust all reasonable alternatives before disinterring. The following treatment plan shall be used in all cases where disinterment is necessary. The treatment plan shall insure the rapid reburial of human remains.

1. Notification, Consultation, and Excavation

a. Upon discovery of human remains or funerary items, the cultural resource professional shall immediately determine the nature and extent of the burial and/or funerary items, while leaving the remains in place and protected. All other activities must immediately cease within a 10-foot (3-meter) radius unless a previously approved data recovery plan is in place. When human remains or funerary items are encountered in the context of an approved data recovery plan, the cultural resource professional may continue investigations outside the immediate burial area.

b. HPD must be notified immediately that human remains have been encountered.

c. Remains must be kept in place on site until a determination is made by HPD regarding appropriate treatment. When security is a problem, the sponsor of its agent must consult with HPD regarding protective measures.

d. Analysis shall proceed according to section VI.B, above.

e. The location of the remains shall be thoroughly documented. The location shall be described and recorded on the appropriate 7.5 minute USGS topographic map. Locational information shall be provided to HPD in a confidential appendix. It shall not be retained by the sponsor, its agent, the cultural resource professional, or anyone else.

2. Human Remains Identified in the Laboratory. If human remains are discovered along with faunal remains or other samples during laboratory analysis, the sponsor or its agent must contact HPD and then shall rebury the remains consistent with the plan noted in Section 3, below.

3. Reburial

a. Reinterment should take place immediately following removal of remains, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

b. The reburial location shall be situated as close to the site of origin as possible, but far enough away from earth-disturbing and erosional activities so as to eliminate the likelihood of future impact. Selection of a reburial site will depend upon construction design plans, depth of soil, the security of the location, approval of land users (if needed) and other pertinent factors.

c. An identification number shall be assigned to the gravesite. To obtain a grave identification number, contact CRCS.

d. The new location shall be described and recorded on the appropriate 7.5-minute USGS topographic map. Recordation shall include a 50-foot (15.2-meter) radius buffer zone for the gravesite. Locational information shall be provided to HPD in a confidential appendix. HPD may provide to others on a need-to-know basis. It shall not be retained by the sponsor, its agent, the cultural resource professional, or anyone else.

e. The remains and funerary items shall be reburied in the same orientation and position as originally found. For relocation purposes, the location of the reburial and a sketch map depicting the positions of the remains shall be prepared. Upon request, a skeletal illustration form is available from HPD to inventory the completeness of the human remains. This information shall immediately be turned over to, and shall become the property of HPD.

f. The sponsor of its agent shall ensure that the reburial location is reclaimed to conform to the natural landscape and that protective measures are implemented as necessary, to avoid future impacts to the reburial site (protective fencing, stabilization, reseeding, etc.).

4. Reporting. The results of investigations at a burial site shall be incorporated into a report as a detachable, confidential appendix. This report shall be submitted to the CRCS. None of the information regarding the location of burials shall be retained by the sponsor or its agent. Confidential appendices shall only be distributed to appropriate parties, as determined by HPD.

D. Non-Native American Burials without Lineal Descendants

In the rare instances that non-native human remains without lineal descendants are encountered on Diné lands, HPD shall initiate consultation with the appropriate entities.

VIII. Dispute Resolutions

HPD shall consider disputes within or between families, within a community, between tribes, or with federal agencies related to the treatment of gravesites, human remains, and funerary items on a case-by-case basis. Disputes among lineal descendants may be referred to the Navajo Peacemaker Courts (H0zh==j7 Naa't1anii), as appropriate.

IX. Attachments/Forms

A. Identification of Gravesites, Human Remains, and Funerary Items and Statement of Wishes: Burials with Lineal Descendants.

B. Identification of Gravesites, Human Remains, and Funerary Items: Burials without Lineal Descendants.