After years of planning and preparation, construction has begun on the Lehi Cry House. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Tuesday, January 14, at the Lehi Cemetery.
The 13,000-square-foot facility is composed of two separate buildings: the Cry House, which measures 5,500 square feet, and an 8,000-square-foot dining hall. The capacity of both buildings is 300 people. The Cry House will host both traditional and Christian funerals for members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Having a place where traditional Piipaash (Maricopa) funerals could be held has been a goal in the Community for more than 30 years.
“Growing up Piipaash, and [believing that] how we do things is always normal, I never really thought about [why we perform funeral ceremonies the way we do] until I talked to other people, and they [were confused about] how we say goodbye, what we do and why we do it,” said Kelly Washington, Cultural Resources Department director. “We still practice the tradition of cremation. I know it strikes some people as odd, but it’s as normal to us as their traditions are to them. It comes from the time of Creation.”
“[According to our cultural values] there is also the need to separate the living from the deceased, and with the facilities that we have today [Lehi Community Building], that wasn’t occurring. We had activities related to both [life and death occurring in the same building]. The new Cry House will provide space for those two worlds to be separated.
“The Cry House plays an important role; it might be contemporary in some regards, but the concepts are deeply rooted and very ancient,” said Washington.
Cry houses are located either in the cemetery or across the street from the cemetery.
At the groundbreaking, Community member Ronnie Mack recognized all those who advocated and helped to get the Cry House built.
“I joined the committee back in 1996, after moving back to Salt River,” said Mack. The committee had to agree on the design of the building and discuss how they would move it from the concept stage to the actual construction. “We picked a name for it; the name for the building is Xalychidom Piipaash Nyvaash (The People’s House). Teola Andreas, who recently passed, was looking forward to this building; she had been in the Community for a long time and was a part of this committee and was at all the meetings.”
Mack talked about the ideas that came from all the meetings, discussing how the building should look and how it would function for traditional and Christian funeral services.
“It was a long, hard deal, but we got it done,” said Mack.
SRPMIC President Diane Enos acknowledged the committee members and the staff who continue to work on this project.
“I know there were up to 12 of you at various times putting in your suggestions, recommendations and direction, all with love for those people who are already here and those people that will be put here the best way that we can as Piipaash and O’odham people,” said Enos.
Guest speakers included former SRPMIC Public Works Director Dave Mowry, who was very humbled to be invited back to speak about the project.
“When we started this leg of the project about four years ago, [with] the committee of Lehi elders, Lehi Community members and other Piipaash members from Laveen, there was a great sense of pessimism that this would ever happen,” said Mowry. “I really didn’t understand why, but after hearing people talk here, I understand that it was a very long process to get here. The committee members had a lot of ideas on what the building should look like, and those ideas were incorporated into the [plans]. The architects listened very carefully and the committee members drove the design; the architects had very little to do with the design.”
Peter Pascu, AIA, executive vice-president of DWL Architects + Planners, provided some design details on the project and explained what the Lehi Community has to look forward to when the Cry House is finished, approximately eight to 10 months from now.
“The entire project is designed to consist of materials that are reflective of the Community culture and values—materials that are sustainable, durable and low maintenance,” said Pascu. “For example, the red color is derived based on the pottery colors used by the Maricopa during the making of their pottery.”
Margaret Rodriguez, Community member and owner/president of the construction firm Au Authum Ki Inc., expressed how happy she was to be involved in the Cry House project. She said, “As a Community member and business owner, it is an honor to assist in building this significant structure as a special place for family and friends to gather in tradition, customs and with love to honor the loved ones who have passed from this life to the next.”
Mack, Washington, Ron Carlos, Pacer Reina and Bruin Reina joined Piipaash singers in a Mohave song and a Maricopa round dance song to end the ceremony. The singers were also recognized for performing their songs during funerals; they stay up all night singing songs as families honor their departed loved ones.
Following the groundbreaking ceremony, everyone was invited to the Lehi Community Building for lunch.