Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
DESERT NWRC: An Interagency Celebration of Life in Death
California-Nevada Offices , November 2, 2012
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The SNAP ofrenda
The SNAP ofrenda - Photo Credit: Amanda Rowland/NPS
Amanda Rowland (NPS) and Anica Mercado (FWS) in traditional face paint.
Amanda Rowland (NPS) and Anica Mercado (FWS) in traditional face paint. - Photo Credit: Jesse Navarro
BLM employee perfecting the BLM logo on his sugar skull.
BLM employee perfecting the BLM logo on his sugar skull. - Photo Credit: Anica Mercado/USFWS

By Anica Mercado, Environmental Education/Visitor Services

On November 1 and 2, 2012, the Southern Nevada Agency Partnership (SNAP), a collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), and the U.S. Forest Service  participated in the Life in Death Festival at Winchester Cultural Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Attracting 7,000 attendees, the Life in Death Festival is the local celebration of Day of the Dead, a traditional Mexican holiday that honors departed family and friends. For the past five years, SNAP has participated in the Life in Death Festival by creating an ofrenda, or altar, to honor those who have died on public lands. Each year the ofrenda theme changes to reflect a different cause of death, and previous themes have included suicide, death from the elements, and reckless driving. This year’s ofrenda was in honor of those who have drowned at Lake Mead National Recreational Area.

Eight people drowned in 2012, two of which were children. Some of the deceased were members of the Hispanic community, one of the reasons behind this year’s theme choice.

The SNAP ofrenda included many traditional Day of the Dead elements. In the front of the ofrenda were eight loaves of bread, or pan de muerto, along with eight skulls and eight candles to honor each of the dead. Two of the loaves were smaller to signify the children. The ofrenda itself was decorated to look like Lake Mead, with graphics of traditional Day of the Dead skeletons adorned in life jackets. Around the ofrenda were marigolds, a customary flower used to honor the dead. Half of the marigolds were donated by a local florist, who had been friends with two of the deceased.

On the back of the ofrenda, leaning over Lake Mead, was a representation of La Llorona. La Llorona, the weeping woman, is seen in southwestern mythology as a woman that wanders along waterways, luring children to their deaths. Often used as a cautionary tale, SNAP carried on this theme by putting inflatable armbands on La Llorona, and used the opportunity to educate the public about the importance of life jackets in hopes of preventing similar tragedies from happening again. None of  the people the ofrenda was honoring had been wearing life jackets. Unfortunately, many think that the inflatable armbands are equal to life jackets in providing safety to their children.

The ofrenda was also decorated throughout with sugar skulls, another Day of the Dead tradition. Nearly fifty skulls were made and decorated by various staff of all the SNAP agencies during two workshops that were held before the event. These workshops were done to increase awareness of the event and the holiday throughout the agencies.

The ofrenda was voted best theme by event attendees, which included a monetary prize. The money was donated back to the Winchester Cultural Center to fund future Families in Nature programs. Families in Nature, a SNAP initiative, works to connect Hispanic and other diverse members of the community to nature through different trips and activities on public lands.

Contact Info: Anica Mercado, 775-240-9173, Anica_Mercado@fws.gov
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