The brightly painted spirit houses in the cemetery are neither an Athapaskan nor a Russian Orthodox tradition but seem to be an original product of the collision of two belief systems. Traditionally, the Tanaina would cremate their dead and put the ashes in a spirit house. The Russian Orthodox encouraged burial, and somehow, by the twentieth century, the spirit house was widely used to cover graves.
Today, the dead are buried and the grave covered with a blanket—whose colors often denote clan associations—for forty days. Then the small gable-roofed structure known as a spirit house is erected. The color scheme is selected by the family and often is consistent within a family grouping; color and shape of