Procession from Albuquerque to Shiprock honors late Army veteran Cecelia B. Finona

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK — Rita Goodluck held a bright orange sign that stated, "Welcome home CeCe," with "R.I.P." on each side as she waited on July 19 for the motorcade escorting the family of U.S. Army Cecelia B. Finona to Shiprock.

Finona was reported missing from Farmington on June 1, 2019. The Farmington Police Department reported on July 2 that her body was identified in Clark County, Nevada and have charged her boyfriend, Jerry Jay, with murder and kidnapping.

Goodluck, a Shiprock resident, explained that she was friends with Finona when they were students at Shiprock High School.

She remembered Finona as "a quiet girl" who was a "very, very nice person."

"She's coming home," Goodluck said. "We had her in our prayers for a long time."

Community members watch on July 19 the motorcade escorting family members of U.S. Army veteran Cecelia B. Finona to Desert View Funeral Home in Shiprock after her remains arrived at Albuquerque earlier in the day.

That sentiment was shared among community members who gathered under the hot afternoon sun to wait for the procession. Finona's family was escorted by the Navajo Hopi Honor Riders and various law enforcement and fire departments after they received her remains in Albuquerque.

They arrived at Desert View Funeral Home in Shiprock after 3 p.m. Funeral services are scheduled for July 20 in Farmington.

Before they arrived, workers from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's Shiprock District raised a U.S. flag over the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 491, nearby the old Navajo Police Department building.

Sisters Marlynda Bidtah, left, and Yvette Bidtah honor the late U.S. Army veteran Cecelia B. Finona on July 19 in Shiprock. Finona was reported missing in June 2019 and her remains were found and identified this year.

People gathered near the setup, including Shiprock resident Val Tsosie and her children.

"We've been following her story," Tsosie said adding they were there to show support to Finona's family and to highlight the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The circumstance of Finona's case has been embraced by groups and organizations on the Navajo Nation that advocate for the end of violence against Native American women and that draw attention to the high rates of disappearances and murders of Native women and girls.

When Marlynda Bidtah and her sister, Yvette Bidtah, arrived at the location, they unloaded a banner stating "R.I.P. Soldier" with a red handprint, which indicates solidarity with MMIW.

Workers from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's Shiprock District raise a U.S. flag on July 19 in honor of the late U.S. Army veteran Cecelia B. Finona over the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 491 in Shiprock.

"It's been a hard two years for the family, and we wanted to show support," Marlynda Bidtah said after taping the banner to their vehicle.

Finona told The Daily Times in a March 2019 interview that she served more than three decades in the Army, retiring as a master sergeant.

"She was a military lady. We have to support our military," Yvette Bidtah said.

Reporter Joshua Kellogg contributed to the story.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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