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A special blessing for the school year

In Native American culture, spirituality holds a special place. Not necessarily for religious purposes, but to acknowledge respect and appreciation for the forces that influence the world we live in.

Recently, the American Indian Resource Center held its annual fall semester open house to welcome students, faculty and staff back to campus for the start of the new school year. Besides good food and fun activities, the event was concluded with a “Blessing the Journey” ceremony aimed at bringing positive thoughts and optimism to those participating.

Deana Mitchell, a member of the Navajo Tribe and American Indian Woman Scholar for the current academic year, said the ceremony is an inclusive tradition used to build community among people of all cultures.

“We always try to bring in people even if they are not Native American to share this with us because it’s always a good blessing to have the community with us,” she said. “It’s building community, even building friendships long-term.” 

During the ceremony, a tribal elder burns sweet grass or sage and walks to each individual participant and allows them to “immerse” themselves in the smoke emitting from the sweet grass strands used in the tradition. In so doing, the individual is asking for positive energies to those in attendance and others within the community. 

“When we burn our sweet grass or even sage, it helps to bring us balance within our spirituality, and even physically,” Mitchell said. “For me personally, I also do it just to keep me grounded.”

On this occasion, AIRC program manager Tashina Barber conducted the blessing with assistance from center program coordinator Hailee Roberts, both of whom are also Diné (Navajo). Barber said the significance of this blessing is to ensure the students begin the new academic year in an uplifting fashion. 

“We want them to start with harmony and good thoughts that they will be able to succeed and do the things that they need to do with their academics and their extracurriculars to excel,” she said. “We want them to have that sense of harmony, balance and support as they’re moving forward through that journey.” 

“This experience humanizes us and shows how cross-cultural engagement can be a bridge to understanding,” Barber said. “It also shows that we all really just want good things for ourselves and those that we care about.”

AIRC work study staff Alyssa Pretty On Top, a first-year student from Ronan, Montana who is enrolled in the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes and also practices her Apsaalooke (Crow) culture, said she enjoyed all aspects of the Blessing the Journey event from the food, to the inclusive games, representation of the Native culture, as well as the support from staff at the University.

“The ceremony allowed me to feel truly welcomed at the U, especially at the AIRC and connect with other students and staff that I wouldn’t have been able to anywhere else on campus,” said Pretty on Top. “This event allowed me to feel at home, while away from home.”