KINGMAN - The Hualapai tribe held a special cleansing ritual Monday at the site of the future Lee Williams High School, where graves from the former Pioneer Cemetery had been unearthed.
A total of 11 gravesites and seven coffins have been discovered over the last three weeks as crews dug a trench for a sewer line in the parking lot behind where the grandstands were located.
The ceremony was led by Drake Havatone of the Hualapai Cultural Center. Havatone said he offered a simple prayer to help purify the area and give a sense of closure to the project.
Around 70 tribe members are believed to be buried at that location, although it's unknown if any of their graves were disturbed.
"We don't just pray for ourselves; we pray for everyone," he said.
"Once you wake up a spirit like that, they're lost."
Trenching work was completed last week. Oz Enderby, director of construction for the Kingman Unified School District, said that in addition to human remains, a number of artifacts - such as cufflinks, a brass nameplate, a medallion and jewelry - were discovered.
The medical examiner and four archeologists from a firm in Flagstaff were onsite at the project and moved in when construction crews hit what they believed to be remains or artifacts.
Enderby said the archeologists used small scoops and brushes to completely expose the remains, which were then carefully removed and catalogued for storage at the Medical Examiner's Office in Lake Havasu City.
Crews weren't exactly surprised last month when they began discovering remains from the old Pioneer Cemetery, which operated from 1900 to 1917. The cemetery used to be located in the area of the old parking lot and grandstands, with a portion of the cemetery jutting into the football field's end zone.
The cemetery was formally abandoned in 1944. It cost $45 to have a grave relocated from Pioneer to the newer Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill, and being the era of the Great Depression, many families could not afford the cost.
Enderby said the district used a map drafted by a county engineer in 1941 to help identify some of the sites. But with more than 340 names and no other documentation to go by, there's no telling how many graves are left.
Enderby said the district had been told that the majority of graves had been relocated.
"In reality, what our excavation discovered, is that that's not the case," he said.
School officials spoke with representatives from the Hualapai tribe, who said around 70 tribe members are believed to be buried at that location.
Because there is no way to tell which remains were Native American, the tribe elected to hold Monday's purification ritual as a way to help all of the spirits disturbed by the construction to move on.
All other utilities set for construction have been redesigned to avoid disturbing any more gravesites.
Enderby estimated that the excavation of the graves tacked an additional $30,000 onto construction costs, which will be covered by the district.