- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

CORTEZ, Colo. (AP) - Navajo Medicine Man Francis Mitchell offered an emotional prayer last weekend as he led a blessing ceremony for a new hogan in Southwest Colorado.

Moving himself and others to tears at one point during the nearly three-hour ceremony on Saturday, July 11, Mitchell was asked to bless the ritual site by the Southwest Intertribal Voice.

“This is not religion,” Mitchell said while slipping on a headband. “This is a way of life.”

Starting with a protection song, the blessing ceremony included rubbing white corn powder along the door frame, floor and ceiling of the hogan. Arrowheads, one white and one red, were also submerged in a bowl of water, which was later passed around for all to drink. Yellow corn powder and smoke from cedar were also utilized during the blessing ceremony.

“Sometimes we get caught in the world,” said Mitchell. “This will allow us to teach our offspring, and a lot of stories will be derived from here.”

Southwest Intertribal Voice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a voice for Native Americans across the Four Corners, constructed the hogan. The volunteer group also set up a tepee on the 24-acre site between Cortez and Towaoc on U.S. 160.

Intertribal Voice board president Art Neskahi said the aim was to offer Native Americans living off-reservation a place to hold traditional ceremonies. He said neighbors living next door to a Native family in Cortez, for example, might not appreciate a beating drum, adding that the ceremonial site would alleviate such disturbances.

“I’m looking forward to many blessings coming from this place,” said Neskahi.

Neskahi commended efforts from donors, and applauded two local white men, Bill Jobin and Wray Boswell. Jobin donated the seed money to launch the effort, and Boswell worked to help construct the hogan. Jobin and Boswell were among some three dozen people to attend Saturday’s blessing ceremony.

“We congratulate you on this beautiful hogan,” said Jobin, a member of the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Cortez.

“We worked one day a week,” said Boswell, adding that he and Neskahi labored nearly every weekend over the past two years to build the hogan. “It’s nice to see it all come together.”

Neskahi’s younger brother, Arlie Neskahi, traveled from Washington state to attend the blessing ceremony on his family’s land. He said that his grandfather and others were once unable to freely gather for such a ceremony, citing Native practices were outlawed.

“They went to jail many times,” said Arlie Neskahi. “Being here today is a wonderful thing.”

Ceremonial specialist Patricia-Anne Davis also recalled those difficult times, citing the first time she ever entered a ceremonial teepee was 1974.

“I’m so happy for you,” Davis told the Neskahi brothers. “I just want to thank you.”

Andrew Tso, of Cahone Mesa, also expressed his gratitude to Southwest Intertribal Voice for providing the ceremonial grounds. Tso, an official with the Native American Church, is hopeful that the site can be used for quarterly conference meetings.

“We have peyote chiefs still here,” Tso said. “They’ve been waiting on a place like this.”

But state transportation officials, citing public safety concerns, halted those healing ceremonies, Tso said.

A Ute Mountain Ute tribal elder led a traditional blessing ceremony for the tepee on the site.

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Information from: Cortez Journal, https://www.cortezjournal.com/

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