Two people are dead following a traditional Navajo religious ceremony that had gone terribly wrong at the Alamo Navajo Reservation Saturday. Fourteen others attending the ceremony were injured.
A report on KOAT-TV quoted Navajo Nation Police Department spokesperson Christina Tsosie said 14 people suffered from smoke inhalation. The ceremony was conducted in a hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling made of logs and mud that are maintained for ceremonial purposes.
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Tsosie said on the report that the type of ceremony the people were participating in lasts all night long and involves an open fire pit burning in the sealed up hogan.
She said the ceremony began on Saturday evening. At 6:30 a.m. Sunday, a woman reported finding two people who were unresponsive on the floor near the door inside the hogan.
According an Associated Press story, the call for help came at 8:30 a.m. from an especially secluded pocket of the Navajo Nation: A man and woman were unresponsive inside a traditional structure and 14 others were suffering from smoke inhalation after a nighttime ceremony.
Alamo first responders performed CPR on the two people, but the attempts were unsuccessful.
The reaction to the deaths has been far-reaching and widespread among many Native Americans in recent days.
“Certainly, it’s a true tragedy,” said Sandor Iron Rope, a former president of the Native American Church of North America, a religion shared among people from numerous tribes. “I just had to step back and offer my prayers.”
Iron Rope, who is Oglala Lakota and whose wife is Navajo, said he was struck that so many people suffered from smoke inhalation during a ceremony inside a hogan, given the homes generally are well-ventilated.
“They have been holding ceremonies in them for eons,” he said.
Native American Church ceremonies, which last through the night, are held most often in teepees, though on the Navajo Nation they also can be conducted in hogans.
Navajo Nation police said Wednesday they are still investigating what happened at the weekend gathering in Alamo.
Their causes of death have not been determined.
The 14 other people reported feeling sick and dizzy throughout the night. They were all treated on-site by first responders for smoke inhalation.
Hogans and sweat lodges are customarily used for purification rituals throughout the Navajo Nation.
The traditional Navajo structures often are constructed with log walls and a smoke hole in the center. Mud traditionally fills a hogan’s log gaps and seals it, though in recent decades plywood, clapboard and asphalt roofing also have been used.
It remained unclear how the hogan was constructed. Citing concerns about cultural sensitivity, officials declined to name the type of ceremony, saying only that it involved an open fire pit burning inside the home.
Tsosie, the police spokeswoman, said the Alamo case had been referred to a criminal investigator as a standard procedure.