Nygren praises repositioning of Navajo VA prototype hogan

The prototype hogan will now become the Navajo Nation Veteran Administration’s main office. (Photo/NN)

The prototype hogan will now become the Navajo Nation Veteran Administration’s main office. (Photo/NN)

TSE BONITO, N.M. — The Navajo Nation Veteran Administration’s prototype hogan’s front doorway now faces east as it should.

When constructed, the traditional Navajo dwelling was built with the doorway incorrectly facing south.

The home was built in 2021 by the Sparrow Group, a Native-owned contractor and construction services company based in Albuquerque, N.M. The Hogan showcases design features that can benefit disabled veterans.

Upon hearing the news this week, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren praised the Navajo Veterans Administration for repositioning the hogan’s door.

“While mistakes happen, they’re not usually like this,” Nygren said. “The east-facing entryway and layout honors our Diné concepts of walking in beauty. It’s a small but meaningful detail that makes this a true Navajo home.”

The repositioning of the entranceway now incorporates Navajo cultural traditions. East is a sacred direction associated with new beginnings and the rising sun. The new entryway opens into the two-bedroom, one-bathroom demonstration home that is shaped like a Navajo hogan. The doorway that once faced south has been converted into a closet space.

The 1,200-square-foot prototype incorporated design elements to improve accessibility such as wide hallways and doors, and easy-to-use kitchen appliances. It has a bathroom that is ADA-compliant.

When the prototype was completed two years ago, Navajo veterans who saw the home said it was in the wrong direction — south. Traditional Navajos say the entrance to Navajo homes always faces east.

VA Executive Director Bobbi Annie Baldwin said seeing the prototype’s entranceway facing the wrong direction was wrong.

“It was a slap in our face because the home is a female-designed hogan,” she said.

Under the directive of Nygren, Baldwin and her staff developed plans to reposition the entranceway.

“We said, ‘We don’t throw away beliefs. The door will face east,’’ Baldwin said.

Consulting with Navajo leaders helped the agency construct a dwelling that can better serve Native American veterans, she said.

“This demonstrates our commitment to being culturally sensitive as we work to meet the needs of all those who have bravely served our country,” Baldwin said.

The prototype hogan is no longer an option for Navajo veterans to choose as their home. Veterans who still want the hogan as their home can reach out to the Sparrow Group. Baldwin said the Navajo VA has gone back to rectangular-type homes.

“The Navajo rectangle homes are more cost-effective,” she said. “New contractors, like the Southwest Indian Foundation, can build one-to-three-bedroom homes for $171,000 to $195,000 through the American Rescue Plan Act.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic, inflation has increased and material costs have risen considerably. That brings home costs to between $250,000 and $300,000.

To apply for a home, a Navajo veteran must bring in their DD-214 discharge paper, Certificate of Indian Blood, the request for home application, and completed homesite lease document.

To avoid processing fraudulent applications, all Navajo veterans must sign a document stating they do not own a home on or off the Navajo Nation, that the home is for them and their families, and they agree they must live in the home 365 days a year once it is completed.

Once all documentation is gathered, a veteran must return it to their local veterans’ agency office. A housing specialist then certifies that the veteran has all the required documents.

The Housing Improvement Program under the Division of Community Development could use this modern Hogan plan for non-veterans as well. A fund management plan is being developed for people who decide to buy a home.

There are approximately 9,800 Navajo veterans registered with the Navajo VA but there could be close to 20,000 Navajo veterans living across the U.S.

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