Shoshones and Goshutes bless national park observatory site

Ross Johnson photo Participants after the indigenous blessing ceremony at Great Basin National Park March 21.

Ross Johnson photo
Participants after the indigenous blessing ceremony at Great Basin National Park March 21.

Spiritual leaders from the Ely Shoshone Colony and the Goshute Reservation officially blessed the Great Basin National Park site where a world-class telescope and astronomical observatory is to be built this year.

About 20 people joined the spiritual leaders at the site March 21, and in the process bridged an historical gap of thousands of years between ancient indigenous culture and modern technology. Now that the original stewards of the land have prepared the site, construction may proceed.

The Great Basin Observatory foundation raised over half a million dollars by the end of last year to fund the project.

Ely Shoshone Trent Griffith, 21, initiated the ceremony by reading an indigenous Newe prayer poem.

Rupert Steele, a spiritual advisor representing the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, donned moccasins and a headdress made of golden eagle feathers and horsehair.

“Everything surrounding us is our medicine, our food,” Steele said. “We say thank you to the foundation. Our spirits and thoughts are intact, these all stand up here and they have meaning for us, every one of them. We have songs for each one, the moon, the sun, all of them. I want to thank the sun today. I want to sing a song.”

Steele then sang a Newe prayer song to the sun overhead. He spread sweetgrass seed around the circle of observers and in scattered corners of the observatory site.

Another Ely Shoshone representative lit a bundle of sage and fanned the smoke with the wing of a bald eagle, singing while Griffith drummed. They faced south, then west and in turn completed a circle. The entire group of participants then clasped hands and performed a circle dance to conclude the ceremony.

Afterwards, Steele wrapped his headdress in a cloth, red to keep bad spirits away. He translated his prayer song into English.

“That’s what I ask for,” he said. “My relatives, they’re still here, making medicine for us, making songs for us. Our language connects us to our land. Through that smoke we send our prayers up there, to the cosmos. We send them through the women. Women have the power to send the prayers all the way up there. The blessing comes back through them. Men, we just prepare the ceremony. Mother Earth, women, they are the keepers of everything. Women and water are the two most important parts.”

“We’re honored that the tribes came to bless the site and get us off to a good start,” Park Superintendent Steve Mietz said.

The park plans to have the 28-inch telescope operational by the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary on Aug. 25.

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