The hogan is a cornerstone of Diné culture and tradition. As a sacred dwelling place, it is a space for ceremony and song; and as a home, it plays a fundamental role in the maintenance of balance within individuals, families, and communities. Traditionally, the male hogan functioned as a place for ceremony, while the female hogan–a larger structure–was constructed for winter shelter. Both the male and female hogan are modeled after First Man and First Woman, and the first hogan was built by coyote and his beaver helpers as their first dwelling place. The origin story of the hogan is told through the Blessing Way song. Today, the hogan continues to provide a space for ceremony and education for Diné people, and this summer BMWC took part in the construction of a male hogan at one of our sacred mountains.
From June 22nd to 25th, Black Mesa Water Coalition fellows and interns traveled to the sacred mountain, Sisnaajini, in Blanca, Colorado to partake in the construction of the male hogan. The project was initiated by last year’s fellows who had originally planned to bring the hogan to Standing Rock for winter shelter. Since the encampment at Standing Rock was closed in February, the group decided to relocate the project to the sacred mountains, where they will be able to return for ceremony and other gatherings. The project was made possible by BMWC as well as Diné Bi’nanitin Dóó O’hoo’aah (The People’s Teaching and Learning).
We spent three nights and four days on the sacred land at the base of Sisnaajini. The days were long and rewarding, with work beginning around 8am and wrapping up as the sun shed its last rays of light on Southern Colorado landscape. Aside from the heavy winds that continuously challenged the durability of our tent site, and threw dust at our faces as we worked, the weather was cooperative and provided fair working conditions. At times, there were upwards of 80 people lending a hand in construction; carving out the foundation of the hogan, erecting the towering, golden pine logs, shaving bark, mixing mud, and of course, cooking the delicious food necessary to fuel all the hard work. The project is ongoing as the group was unable to complete the construction during the four days. BMWC’s Restorative Economy Coordinator, Roberto Nutlouis, said that he and the crew hope to return at the end of July in order to wrap up the project.
In addition to constructing the sacred Diné dwelling place, the project at Sisnaajini provided a space for cultural and traditional education, ceremony, and strengthening connections between Diné communities and organizations. The hogan construction served to gather Diné people from around the Navajo Nation, including various environmental groups, as well as a group of nearly 30 young students from the Star School. Participants were eager to share knowledge and learn from the experience of others. In many ways, the construction of the hogan, the gathering of people, and the sharing of traditional knowledge was itself a ceremony as it drew the people back to the sacred homelands and facilitated the rekindling of culture, kinship and knowledge.
We are proud of the BMWC fellows who organized and facilitated the hogan project. Their work is a demonstration of the will of our young people to revitalize, preserve, and share cultural knowledge, as well as their eagerness to become leaders of the Just Transition movement.