Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 Navajo Oral History Project begins in about 30 days

Eleven students from the Mass Communication Department at Winona State University are getting close to wrapping up their spring semester and then will embark on a summer journalism effort known as the Navajo Oral History Project.

The WSU students will travel to the Navajo Nation where they will stay for three weeks. The WSU students will be put into small teams with students from Diné College of the Navajo Nation. The college student groups will provide a service project for a Navajo elder, and then will interview the elder three times. Students will research the elder, and interview them, plus audio record, video record and photograph the interviews. Then, students will transcribe the interviews, write scripts proofread, edit and produce documentary films focused on the lives of the elders.

This is the sixth year of the Navajo Oral History Project.

At the end of summer, the finished documentary films will be archived at the Navajo Nation Museum and Library, the Libraries at both Winona State University and Diné College, and, perhaps most impressively, at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

See the previous Blog entry (dated Feb. 27, 2015) for a list of the WSU students participating in this project.  As the class gets started in May, the rest of the class will be introduced here on the blog, along with photos.

This blog,, will be updated regularly during the operation of the project, starting in Mid-May 2015. The blog will feature articles about each day's activities and will include photographs of the students doing their journalism work-- and having fun-- while on the Navajo Nation.  Often the articles and photographs will be by the student journalists involved in the project.

Feel free to share this blog address with family, friends and anyone who might be interested in following the activities of this important journalism education project.

Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 Navajo Oral History Project Begins

Eleven students and two faculty members from Winona State University (Winona, Minnesota) are getting ready for a summer documentary journalism course that takes place on the Navajo Nation, located in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

The WSU group met during the third week of February 2015 to begin paperwork and planning for the 2015 Navajo Oral History Project. This is the sixth year of the successful collaboration with Diné College, the tribal college of the Navajo Nation.

The WSU group will meet their Diné College counterparts via Interactive Television classes during the third week of May. Then, the WSU group travels to the Navajo Nation where they will spend three weeks learning together and working in teams with Diné College students on their documentary film projects.

Four student teams will do a service project for a Navajo elder (cleaning a garage, raking a garden, etc.) and then will interview the elder three times over two weeks. The students will photograph, video record, and audio record the interviews and will gather other video and photographs to complement their project. The teams will review all their source material and build 20-minute "Living History" films about each elder's life.

The class is designed to give students real-world experience in all facets of journalism, and help prepare them for career positions in the media after they graduate.

Each student will get copies of their completed films. Copies are also given to the elders and their families. The films will be archived at the Navajo Nation Museum and Library, and at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

The Winona State University students who are participating, their majors, and their hometowns, are:
- Jordan Gerard, Journalism, Spring Grove, Minnesota
- Jacob Hilsabeck, Photojournalism, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
- Reagan Johnson, Transmedia, Columbus, Wisconsin
- Kacie Mann, Public Relations, Maple Grove, Minnesota
- Tobias Mann, Journalism, Thief River Falls, Minnesota
- Nathaniel Nelson, Journalism, Buffalo, Minnesota
- Taylor Nyman, Photography & Digital Imaging, Monroe Center, Illinois
- Casie Rafferty, Journalism, Winona, Minnesota
- Kim Schneider, Journalism, Roseville, Minnesota
- Samantha Stetzer, Journalism, Holmen, Wisconsin
- Ben Strand, Journalism, Burnsville, Minnesota

The two WSU faculty members of this project are:
- Tom Grier, professor of mass communication
- Robbie Christiano, director of development

During the class and field-work portion of the project, this blog will serve as a daily journal highlighting the activities of the student journalists in words and pictures.  In future updates to the blog, the students an faculty from Diné College will be introduced.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2015 Navajo Oral History Project Planning Begins

The first organizational meetings for the 2015 Navajo Oral History Project class are being held and students are being recruited. The project is a collaboration between Winona State university (Winona, Minnesota) and Diné College (Tsaile, Arizona), the Tribal College of the Navajo Nation.

Three meetings were held in Mid-October at WSU with about 20 Mass Communication students showing interest in participating in the documentary journalism project that goes into the field in May 2015.  Last week (Oct. 27-30) Professor Tom Grier and Teaching Assistant Robbie Christiano visited Diné College and spoke to seven classes there to promote the 2015 NOHP. About 20 DC students also indicated interest in joining the class next spring. 

Grier and Christiano will hold another promotional meeting at WSU on Monday, Nov. 3, at 1 p.m. in Phelps Hall, Room 116. Following that meeting, the program will begin to finalize its roster of students. The class has a maximum enrollment of 14 WSU students and 14-16 Diné College students.

In mid-May the WSU group will travel to Tsaile, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation to spend nearly three weeks immersed in the culture and working on documentary journalism pieces. The WSU group will stay in residence hall facilities at Diné College and work in collaborative teams with Diné College students.  The teams will provide a service project for a Navajo elder (cleaning, gardening, repairing, etc.) to build a relationship of trust, and then interview the elders three times using video, audio and still photography.  The groups will produce documentary films that respectfully and authentically tell the elder's story.

DVD copies of the finished films will be given the the families of the elders and each student will get copies.  The films will be archived at the Navajo Nation Library, Navajo Nation Museum, Diné College Library, Winona State University Library, Winona Public Library, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. Not many undergraduate students can say their research projects are arched at the Smithsonian.

The Navajo Oral History Project has enjoyed five years of successful collaboration between the two higher education institutions. During those years, 23 documentary film projects about 23 Navajo elders have been completed. The program has included 51 WSU students and 33 Diné College students.

If anyone has questions or comments on the project, email Professor Tom Grier:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tribal College Journal features the Navajo Oral History Project

The Spring 2014 edition of The Tribal College Journal, "the scholarly voice and vision of American Indian higher education," featured an article written by Dr. Tom Grier that focused on the first five years of the Navajo Oral History Project.

The article features several photographs by Winona State University alumni who were student participants in the NOH project over the years. It also includes links to five documentary films created by WSU students in collaboration with students of Diné College, the tribal college of the Navajo Nation.

In the article, Grier, a professor of Mass Communication at Winona State University, traces the multi-year process of gaining approvals from a variety of Navajo Nation officials before the project could begin. Then he describes the five-years of field work he led along with Dr. Miranda Haskie, a professor of Social and Behavioral Science at Diné College. In the third, fourth and fifth years of the project, Haskie and Grier relied heavily on support and help from Robbie Christiano a graduate student and Winona State alumnus.

The Navajo Oral History project completed its fifth year in summer 2013. The leadership team is now working to renew agreements between the two partner higher education institutions and expects the program to begin a second five-year term in summer 2015.

You can read the full text of the article and follow the links to the films through the Tribal College Journal's web site:

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Navajo Oral History Project films get some quality air time...

Thanks to David Dicke of HBC in Winona for putting together a program to show the films from the Navajo Oral History Project. For five years, Winona State University mass communication students have worked with students of Diné College on the Navajo Nation to gather and tell the stories of Navajo elders in documentary films. HBC's production will allow more people to see the hard work and amazing stories produced by the students.

I'm always interested in finding ways to further publicize these films so people can learn from them, and to honor the students who did the research, writing, photography, video and audio work, editing and production.

Here's a short promo about HBC's scheduled NOH Project program.

Thanks Dave!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Diné College Guests in Winona

Several guests from the Navajo Nation came to Winona, Minn., in mid-September for the 2013 Navajo Oral History project premiere at Winona State University. At the event, the students who participated in the summer documentary journalism class showed the completed versions of their films focused on Navajo elders. 

Dr. Miranda Haskie, a professor of Social and Behavioral Science from Diné College, and her husband, Vernon, led the group that came to Winona for the reception and premiere. 

The guests arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Wednesday, Sept, 11. WSU graduate student Robbie Christiano picked them up at the airport and took them to spend a few hours at the Mall of America before they drove south two hours to Winona. 

On Thursday morning, the students and faculty from the Navajo Nation were guests in Dr. Cindy Killion's Mass Communication Issues and Ethics course at WSU where they discussed media portrayal of American Indians and coverage of news and issues of importance to American Indians.

Later, the Diné College guests and WSU members of the Navajo Oral History Project served as the panel of experts for a news conference in Dr. Tom Grier's News Writing course. The panel discussed the Navajo Oral History Project and the films that were created, which were to be premiered the following evening on campus. 

The Guests from the Navajo Nation enjoyed lunch in The Smaug in WSU's Student Union building then stopped at the WSU Bookstore for some souvenir shopping.

In the late afternoon and evening, the Navajo visitors and lots of Navajo Oral History project students from this year and previous years, enjoyed a cookout and campfire at the home of Robbie Christiano, as guests of Robbie and his parents: Bob and Karen Christiano. This was a fun and casual time with lots of good food, conversation and laughter.

On Friday, Tom and Julie Grier led the group on a hike up Sugar Loaf, the famous rock formation that towers over the City of Winona, Minnesota.

(above three photos by Julie Grier)

(above photo by Michael Ruka)

The Great Dakota Gathering was happening in Winona that day, so the group stopped there for awhile before taking a quick drive to the Garvin Heights overlook for another lofty view of the "Island City."

(above photo by Michael Ruka)

In the evening, the whole group hosted the 2013 Navajo Oral History Project Premiere and Reception to view the student-produced films and to honor the students for their hard work.

WSU's Science Laboratory Center Auditorium was nearly full, with students, faculty, staff, community members, and friends and family of the student filmmakers in attendance. Also attending were several alumni of the program, who came to mark the fifth-year milestone of the project.

(above five photos by Julie Grier)

The films were, of course, excellent, and the students spoke from the heart about the process of meeting the Navajo elders, breaking down cultural barriers, and researching, recording, editing and producing the films that told the life stories of the elders. 

On Saturday morning, the Diné College group returned to the MSP Airport and back home to Arizona. The next day, the WSU group flew to the west to do it all over again, hosting a second premiere and reception event at Diné College on Monday evening. 

(Photos, unless otherwise noted, by Tom Grier.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

2013 Navajo Oral History Project Premiere at Diné College

The life stories of five Navajo elders were featured in documentary films premiered on Monday, Sept. 16, at Diné College, the Tribal College of the Navajo Nation.

The films, part of the 2013 Navajo Oral History Project, were researched, recorded, photographed, edited and produced by students of Winona State University, Winona, Minn., and Diné College, Tsaile, Ariz.

The students and faculty of the program gathered with the five featured elders and their families for a traditional Navajo mutton and fry bread meal and then watched the student-produced films. Following each film, the student filmmakers and the featured elder gave short speeches about the project and the process of working together to record the elder's stories.

The elders featured are:
- Jake Livingston, a Navajo-Zuni Silversmith from Sanders, Arizona;
- Peter MacDonald, former Navajo tribal chairman and World War II Navajo Code Talker from Tuba City, Arizona;
- Nita Nez, a traditional Navajo rug weaver from Rock Point, Arizona;
- Della Toadlena, a retired Diné College English professor from Chinle, Arizona; and
- Baje Whitethorne Sr., a celebrated Navajo artist and sculptor from Flagstaff, Arizona.

Below are a selection of photos from the Diné College premiere event.

The 2013 Navajo Oral History project was the fifth year of the successful collaboration between Winona State University's Mass Communication Department, and Diné College's Social and Behavioral Sciences Department.

The finished documentaries are archived at the Navajo Nation Museum, The Navajo Nation Library, the libraries of both participating higher education institutions, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

Since it began, the program has developed documentary films about 23 Navajo elders. More than 80 students from the two learning institutions have been involved.

The project is directed by Dr. Tom Grier, professor of Mass Communication at Winona State University; Dr. Miranda Haskie, professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Diné College, and Mr. Robbie Christiano, WSU Mass Communication alumnus and current WSU graduate student.

For more information on the project, contact Dr. Tom Grier via email (

The Winona State University group got together for a photo just before the premiere reception began.

Pictured (left to right) are: Tom Grier, Adam Maciejczak, Elise Nelson, Robbie Christiano, Darin Strohmenger, Jolene Kuisle and Skylar Ogren. (photo by Julie Grier)

The Toadlena Family.
Pictured (left to right) are: Brent, Leanne, Della, and Leo.

Jake and Jay Livingston.

DC Student Lorencita Willie poses with WSU Students Darin Strohmenger and Adam Maciejczak.

Dr. Miranda Haskie welcomes guests to the premiere and invites them to enjoy a traditional Navajo mutton and fry bread meal.

Trina Thomas, DC student participant in the 2013 NOH project, with her nephew.

Diné College's Vice President Ron Belloli visits with Prof. Miranda Haskie.

Professor Haskie starts the program.

Diné College Vice President Ron Belloli gave a brief speech about the value of learning opportunities like the Navajo Oral History Project.

Abraham Bitok, Diné College's Academic Dean spoke of his support for this program. 

Jay and Jake Livingston enjoy watching the film about Jake's Life.

Following the film, Jake speaks while the students listen.
Pictured (left to right): Darin Strohmenger, Adam Maciejczak, Lorencita Willie, Jake Livingston.

Peter MacDonald (foreground) and his wife, Wanda, enjoy the film.

DC Student Debb Teller (left) and WSU Student Jolene Kuisle (right) listen while Peter MacDonald speaks.

Nita Nez and her family watch the film about her life as a rug weaver.

WSU Student Skylar Ogren (left), and DC Student Lyndzey Barney listen while Nita Nez discusses the making of the film which included translation help from Nita's daughter, DC Alumna Revaline Nez (right).

Della Toadlena and her family laugh during a light moment in the film about Della's life.

WSU Student Elise Nelson (left) and DC Student Lionel Harvey (right) listen to Della.

Baje Whitethorne Sr., watches the student-produced film about his life and his art.

Baje Whitethorne Sr., (left) talks, while DC Student Trina Thomas listens. 

Robbie Christiano, the graduate student assistant to the NOH project wraps up the evening with a heartfelt talk about the importance of the films and the learning opportunity for students.

The elders and students got together for a group photo.

Pictured (left to right): Jake Livingston, Nita Nez, Peter MacDonald Della Toadlena and Baje Whitethorne Sr.

Some of the group looked over silver jewlery made by Jay and Jake Livingston.

Julie Grier (left) and Tom Grier (right) pose with Jake Livingston and the new silver ring on Julie's finger, just purchased from Jake.