Navajo elders, priests gather at Chacoan Memorial Shrine

Dozens of Native American elders in Albuquerque are confident the historic burial ground on the southern edge of the Chacoan Plateau will become the centerpiece of a new Navajo shrine as planned by the Navajo Nation.

Appearing Sunday before an audience of clergy, spiritual leaders and others, 64 Navajo elders from the Four Corners and Arizona heard the latest report on the religious history and burial site of the Izaak Walton Medicine Mart.

The health department now plans to replant trees to restore the area as an endangered “gem.” Design plans in 2013 would restore the site as a ceremonial area including a doorway and museum displaying objects tied to the site.

The historical and cultural significance of the Medicine Mart is based on recent findings from archaeologists who worked at the site dating back to the 1670s and the early 1900s.

“It is the greatest site in the world. You can compare it to Great Pyramids of Egypt, Second Vatican in Rome or other ancient monuments all over the world, and they don’t compare with Chacoan Medicine Mart,” said Jeremy Warner, chief historian of the Navajo Nation Administration.

Remains of Cherokee, Comanche, Dine, Kiowa, Kiowa, Lakota, White Comanche, and Tulalip tribes are buried at the Medicine Mart. In commemoration of the people buried there, Spanish explorers gave them flags and hatchets during the 1500s.

The archaeological artifacts from the site now in storage represent some of the last possessions from the Chacoan people, many of whom died before these items could be collected by Spanish and French officials. Other archaeological evidence includes an Iroquois storage vessel found in 1642, pieces of rope used by Dakota Indians and a rug that tells the story of the tribes and their legends, Martinez said.

The Navajo group discussed how close the Medicine Mart is to nearby downtown Albuquerque.

Mike Binder, archaeological superintendent for the Navajo Nation, said the prayers being offered at the site are from the people of the Medicine Mart. He said it’s because of the prayers at the Medicine Mart that he remains confident that the Chacoan site will become a shrine.

Native American spiritual and cultural experts attended the prayer meeting on the site, and were asked to pray to deities for the healing of the Medicine Mart, which is located on a federal historic designation. The prayer meeting was facilitated by a priest from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church.

“The elders were saying they’ve been praying for a long time. They were all surprised to see them (Mormon Church) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, talking about Navajo prayers,” Binder said.

Originally a pharmaceutical maker, Martin Luther King’s remains were moved in 1995 to the Medicine Mart from Atlanta, where they’d been interned.

More than two centuries ago, Spanish explorers and monks built a church to worship the saints of the Chacoan people, who lived in the Chacoan Desert from 1652 to 1821. One of the first events at the original Medicine Mart church was when a Leavenworth expedition wagon came and settled among the Chacoan people, bringing with it canoe and wheel designs, Martinez said.

The U.S. Department of Interior reports that the Izaak Walton Medicine Mart, as it is now called, has just over half of its original anthropological vegetation covering the rock walls of the Medicine Mart. All of the plan remains is to replant an additional 4 acres of trees on the Medicine Mart site to augment the plant growth already present.

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