Navajo cleansing ceremony held in dorm where teen slain

Tucson, Arizona (AP) 9-07

Mia J. Henderson is congratulated by relatives following Tuba City High School's commencement exercises May 26, 2007, in Ariz. Henderson died following a fight with her roommate Sept. 5. AP/Navajo Times photo by Paul Natonabah

A Navajo medicine man has performed a traditional cleansing ceremony at the University of Arizona dormitory where a student was slain.

The private ceremony inside the college’s Graham-Greenlee residence hall was performed by Thomas Yazzie, who said the ritual was a way to heal and cleanse and move forward in a positive way.

The hours-long ceremony was done after sunset Sept. 6, a day after 18-year-old Mia Henderson was killed in the room she shared with fellow student Galareka Harrison.

Harrison, also 18, faces first-degree murder charges in the death. Police documents filed in court allege she was upset with Henderson for accusing her of forgery and theft, and concocted a plan to make her roommate’s death appear to be a suicide.

Both young women are from the Navajo Nation and part of the school’s Native American Young Scholars program, which houses 60 students in the dorm.

“In the Navajo tradition it’s always appropriate in a tragedy such as this to actually correct the tragedy and make things whole once again,” said Manley Begay, director of the UA’s Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy in the Udall Center.

The ceremony typically lasts about four hours, one of the shorter Navajo rituals, Begay said. Traditional Navajos find the practice crucial for rehabilitating a building where tragic events occurred.

“It’s a ceremony that requires a tremendous amount of solemnness and respect and consideration. It’s very private,” Begay said. “Even though we’re such a distance from the Navajo Nation, there’s still a tremendous amount of caring for our students.”