Honoring the Passage of Death

Native American

An interview with UquallaA Native American Perspective on Crossing Over

Article and photos by Sandra Cosentino

An interview with Uqualla who is a member of the Havasupai tribe that lives within the Grand Canyon

Uqualla is known as a ceremonial orator, teacher, universal wisdom keeper who walks within his own traditional world and as well as sharing with peoples in many parts of the world.


I was greatly comforted by his words and death passage songs on April 3 as he and other friends gathered in a campfire circle here in Sedona at sunset to honor the passage of my Mother who crossed over on Good Friday, April 2. He and Hopi friends who I spent Easter with on April 3, helped me experience her crossing as a natural process. In the sharing of their kind embrace and wisdom, I came to realize deep down in my core, that my Mother, who is from an Arizona pioneer family, is happy and free and moving on and only wishes the best for me, my brother and sister who remain behind. And that, in fact, as we, the survivors, live our life in a fuller and richer way, we pay the greatest tribute to the life she gave us. My sister, Marsha Cosentino, said in her eloquent memorial to our Mother that she was “a spirited long-lived woman of strong values who always remained open to new things”…and that we “who love her and will miss her, join in the hope that she is dancing in the great beyond.”

Thoughts on Indigenous Perspectives

Over early morning coffee yesterday, Uqualla shared his thoughts on his indigenous perspective of the passage that occurs with death which I now offer to you.

An interview with UquallaThe passing or journey returning home at death, is viewed as a powerful transitioning of all that is associated—the relatives, the environment. In the pre-Western tribal world each person had an economic and spiritual role that were part of survival of the tribe as a whole. So in the ceremonial honoring of the journeyer (one who has departed), the fabric of society is rewoven and hearts begin to heal.

“The person that is passing is at the level of spirit and has the ability to communicate with spirit. They understand that now permission is given for them to return home to spirit and go further in their journey. They are given the gift of illumination and clarity.”

For the survivors, grief is understandable. Uqualla believes extended mourning is not the wish of the journeyer, but they will remain with us for as long as we need them. However, “their wish on passing is for us to have the best of blessings as our life goes on. At the moment of passing, take this gift and use it. For many it is difficult to accept they are blessing us from spirit.”

“We tend to feel devastated. In the passing we are overwhelmed with the totality of our human responsibility. Beyond our sense of loss there is deep despair how one is to survive. Allow for fulfillment, empowerment, strength and beauty of heart to be a prominent part of day to day existence in this physical reality. It is not for us to know what happens in passage, but just to realize the one who has crossed over is in intimacy with spirit.” He advises, “Allow a time of quiet, but know that you still have the ability to be of this consciousness.”

uqgrandcancereThe Ultimate Gift

Uqualla emphasizes, “Medicine beings have always known that passage allowed for the ultimate gift to survivors by taking their place. We in today’s world are very behind in this understanding and we simply promote finality. This is not the way of one moving on who is beginning a whole new life. Spirit chose the one who is passing through. This is a symbol of sacrifice. This person has done all they they could in sharing, teaching in times of people’s evolution.”

“In the indigenous way, we accept nurturing, embrace, protection, songs and gestures as we cannot in physical quite comprehend the ethereal. In these ways we acknowledge presence of Spirit and allow for expression of the love we feel for the departed one.”

In his Havasupai tradition, Uqualla says, “we begin at sunset which is the transition time into night. We awaken the love, the strengths, the beauties of all as through the night we sing songs and ceremonial orators speak. We become translators of spirit through our ceremony allowing for our respect and love throughout. Survivors are held in gentle embrace. At dawn the last of the songs are sung completely allowing for the journeyer to leave. In our hearts we have said to our departed one: we will be alright.” In past times this went many days, not just one night. “But still to this day the gesture of our ceremonial responsibilities helps with healings and strengthens all.”

“Crying, releasing, letting go, death, rebirth, death is a core part of existence of all. Just as with the simple act of breathing in and out, you bring in the new and let go of the old. We need to bring these things into our consciousness and say thank you, I love you, I miss you. Time is a great healer. Quiet helps promote healing as we connect with the essence of vibrations around us knowing we are connected to all of life. Spirit is present in all life forms and a constant watcher of all. Honoring this allows us to better understand.”

The Challenge

The biggest challenge for society is to understand why a very young person is taken or to come to terms with loss of loved ones taken by violence or natural disaster. Uqualla expresses with deep empathy the voice of Spirit saying, “I love you too much and call you home.” A sudden unexpected loss such as this, he says, “reminds us that we each need to express all we can in our life not knowing when our time is there.”

“Our role is to free ourselves. To give permission to ourselves to better heal and grow. As we bring our self into a better place, we also honor our departed and help fulfill their blessing to us to be the better reflections of spirit. Our lives are meant to be a teaching tool, an illuminator. We have to grow from loss in a positive way. We are always going to be in search of answers. But if we take a situation and have a positive focus, we are doing the work of spirit.”


All photos above were taken by Sandra Cosentino at a dawn ceremony at the Grand Canyon led by Uqualla along with members of his tribe in January, 2010 to honor the Arizona gathering of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers.

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