Arizona Woman Works to Identify Those Buried in a Navajo and Hopi Cemetery

Historical preservationist Gail Sadler was both heartbroken and appalled at the condition of a cemetery when she first laid eyes on it in 2008, soon after she had been appointed to the Winslow, Arizona, Historic Preservation Commission. She soon made it her mission to unearth the identities of the roughly 600 people buried there and help their descendants reconnect with their history.

Her mission quickly became an obsession. On nights after work and on weekends, Sadler would go online and scour death certificates – some 8,800 from 1932 to 1962 – looking for the Indian Cemetery as the final resting place.

You can read more and see some pictures in an article by Felicia Fonseca at

My thanks to newsletter reader Ernie Thode for telling me about this story.


I’m sorry but this is the height of arrogance. The Navajo told her of their heritage and I guess for me that would have been the end of it. Making the index was a great thing but to try to resurrect the cemetery and make it over in her image was just wrong. She should stop with the index and honor the Navajo beliefs about death and the hereafter.


David Paul Davenport August 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I agree with Mary Freel. Ms. Sadler is not respecting the cultural values of Native Americans. She should stop immediately and apologize profusely for her lack of cultural sensitivity. The word arrogance does not begin to describe her attitude (but it is consistent with the LDS belief that to be a real Christian one has to be a member of the LDS church, none of the other forms of Christianity are good enough). And I hasten to add that I am ashamed as a white male that a white female is perpetuating the racism that was used to justify “European imperialism” for four centuries, namely that whites are superior to others and should be allowed to impose their culture on those who are inferior.


My understanding of Navajo traditional beliefs is that they don’t believe in an afterlife and don’t particularly care about honoring corpses. In fact, they try stay away from corpses, believing them to be dangerous to the living. Now Hopis are probably completely different, and many Navajos are Christians now, so have adopted Christian ideas about an afterlife.


What a compassionate thing to do. It would have been much easier to just let it go. Not all of the Native Americans follow the old traditions and will be very happy to be able to pay homage to their ancestors. Lets take it in the spirit that she did it and not be so judgmental of what you perceive her motives to be.


After rereading my comment I guess I need to clarify–making the list of burials was a wonderful thing to do. Trying to “fix” the graveyard is contrary to Navajo culture.


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