For Navajo Medicine Man, Ceremony and Tribal Custom Is at the Center
“Over a peace pipe, it shall be done.”
That’s one way Francis Mitchell summons people he meets to keep in touch with Navajo culture.
At 67, Mitchell is a Navajo medicine man, a Vietnam veteran, father of nine and mentor and spritual advisor to many.
In the yard of the Farmington home he shares with his wife, Pauline, Mitchell has what looks from the outside like a large potting shed or small garage.
But inside — instead of cars or potting soil — is a sweat lodge, an axis of spiritual refuge and purification, central to Native American religion. Supported by 24 flexible, interlocking branches layered over by tarps and blankets, the domed hut is roughly ten feet in diameter and comfortably holds twelve.
Born in Fort Wingate, near Gallup, in 1945. Mitchell’s mother died soon after and at age three, he was given up for adoption by his father to a white Christian couple, the DeVaneys, who took him to Marion, Ohio, where he grew up.
“They were my family until I left to join the military at 17. At age 12, they told me that I was adopted, which wasn’t exactly a surprise because my skin was darker than theirs,” Mitchell said. “I loved them but leaving my birth home, I lost my language and my culture.”
In 1969, after three hitches in eight years as a Marine master sergeant, Mitchell landed in “summer of love”-era San Francisco, before deciding to drive through
the Southwest to go home.
“My wife and I have three children of our own, but six are ones we adopted, one a white man who now has a Ph.D in early childhood education,” he said with a mixture of pride and amusement.
Mitchell and his wife are offically retired, but he is often busy officiating at a Pow Wow, congressional session or ceremony, locally or out of state. This weekend he will officiate at the Totah Festival.
“And I tell you, I met my wife of forty years when I was called to perform a ceremony for her sister, who was sick. I did the ceremony for her family and did some medicine on her, too.”
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