Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 22 - Depart for Home

Even though I said there might not be another blog post in awhile ... here is one the very next day!

Today (Friday) we got up at 4 a.m., packed the vans and headed for Albuquerque, New Mexico -- about a five hour drive from Tsaile, Arizona.

The group that is doing their oral history documentary on Navajo elder Harry Walters, had an appointment to visit with David Brugge, a retired University of New Mexico anthropology professor, who has worked with, and been friends with, Harry for many years. 

Steph Precourt, Andrew Neumann, Miranda Haskie and I met with Professor Brugge in one of the reading rooms of the UNM Library and had a nice visit for about 45 minutes.

Following the interview, we were set to head to the airport. Amazingly, Miranda and Vernon Haskie had parked their car very near where our vans were parked. Vern was having trouble with his starter. In typical Minnesota motorist fashion, I pulled one of our vans around and we gave the Haskies a jump-start and we were all on our way.

We returned one van to the car rental facility at Albuquerque Sunport International Airport, and the group boarded the shuttle to the main airport terminal.  The NWA flight from ABQ-MSP was a bit behind schedule. I received a report via cellphone from Andrew around 6:15 p.m. that the plane had landed and everyone was safely back in Minnesota and heading in separate directions.

I'm driving one van back to Minnesota, loaded down with the video, audio, photography and camping equipment. 

Our class members will work on their projects individually over the next 10 days and will stay in contact with their group mates through email or on-line video chat sessions. We meet as a class on Monday and Tuesday, June 29 and 30, via ITV between WSU and Diné College, to see first drafts of projects and get feedback.

The next blog report will most likely occur around the time of those classes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 21 - Class, Shopping, Service

Thursday was our last day on the Navajo Nation.

We started the day with a class, during which each student group talked about their projects, and their time line for completing their work. 

Around lunch time, we made a run to Window Rock and the Flea Market where souvenir shopping occurred.

In the afternoon, we went to Ruth Roessel's home in Round Rock, Arizona, and did a service project helping to prepare the grounds for a Navajo "Enemy Way" ceremony which is planned for this weekend. 

Thursday evening will be spent packing and getting ready for the trip home. 

This may be the last blog entry for awhile. More updates will occur in the future when there's news to report about progress on the Oral History projects.
Thanks to everyone for reading and supporting this great adventure.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 20 - Wrapping Up Interviews

I hate to admit it, but today was a kind of a down day. After so many amazing, fun and exhilarating days, it was bound to happen. Everyone can see that the end of our trip is near. The gathering phase of the documentary projects is 99 percent complete, and the real work of organizing interviews, photographs and audio and video material has begun.

One group went to Cove, Arizona, to complete a final interview with Harry Walters, and then help build a patio-brick sidewalk for Anna Walters.

Another group interviewed a co-worker of Ruth Roessel's at the Rough Rock Community School, and then had an opportunity for a short follow-up interview with Ruth, herself.

(Above two photos by Cindy Killion)

(Above two photos by Pete Swanson)

The group focusing on Dr. Wilson Aronilth, a faculty member at Diné College, interviewed him in his classroom. He explained how he uses pictures and wall murals of the Navajo Creation Story in his class "Foundations of Navajo Culture."

(Above three photos by Kim Streblow)

A fourth group completed a final interview with Navajo Codetalker Sam Tso, and collected a few more images and video around his place.

So why was it a down day?

Well, partly because everyone is tired and a bit achy from the four-hour horse ride yesterday. Many of us -- me included -- are a bit homesick. We're having a great time here, learning a lot and bonding as a group. But, it's been nearly three weeks since we've seen and hugged and smiled at the most important people in our lives. So, we're fraying a bit around the edges.

I'll admit that I inadvertently added to the stress. Here's how:

I created a summary document that outlined my vision for the three distinct products each group will create, and set deadlines. I thought the document would clarify expectations and give students the opportunity to create a timeline and specific assignments for each group member. Unfortunately, my document created more stress and confusion. As a faculty member in a mass communication program, I failed to effectively communicate with my students.
After dinner, we had a group meeting during which Cindy Killion and I further clarified my thoughts, and tried our best to calm the students and help them plan how to finish their projects. Thankfully, this session eased everyone's minds and it seems they understand better where to go with their projects from here.

I explained to the students that they were involved in a very unique travel study program. They knew coming into it this program would be fun and would include lots of site-seeing and cultural learning. They also knew this program -- unlike most travel study trips -- had a very real and important product to be created. When it's done, they can be proud of their work and can use the projects to show off their talents, skills and abilities.

I also explained it is normal for them to feel stress and discomfort at this point. In fact, I am not doing my job well if they don't feel stretched a bit. Learning occurs at the edge of the comfort zone -- not in the middle of it. If everything were easy and quick to complete, they would not be learning and growing.

Tomorrow will be a good day. We'll meet in class in the morning and hear a progress update from each group and everyone in class will be invited to offer helpful suggestions. Then we have one more service project to complete for an elder, a little tourist-style souvenir shopping, then pack and prepare to leave early Friday morning. In the evening, we'll have a Listening Circle ending our time together the way we began, with each student talking a little about thier experience, what they've learned, what they'll remember most, etc.

Parents and friends, don't worry. In less than 48 hours we'll be returning your students to you: smarter, more mature, and experienced. Even if they don't totally realize it, they will be different than when they left. Their lives have been changed by this adventure. They now have understanding and compassion for Navajo people in particular, but also for American Indians in general. They feel responsible to tell their stories accurately, faithfully and compellingly. Most have talked about finding other ways to help people here who live in poverty and without many things we take for granted like indoor plumbing, running water, TVs, computers, reliable phones, etc. Many have talked about visiting again and helping more.

Our three weeks together has been fun, exciting, interesting, funny, and enjoyable. To be fair, we've also felt exhausted, frustrated, sad, and lonely at times. My hope is that when all the projects are complete, the students will look back on this period of their lives as a great experience and that the good times and pride in quality work well-done will far outweigh the stress and difficulty encountered.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 19 - Horseback Riding in Canyon De Chelly National Monument

Another amazing day as our three-week adventure nears its end. Today, we drove to Chinle, Arizona, to the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, and the headquarters of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. 

The whole canyon complex is located within the Navajo Nation and include the main north fork of the canyon known as Canyon Del Muerto, and the south fork: Canyon de Chelly (pronounced: duh-SHAY).  Many Navajo families live and farm on the floor of the canyon. 

To enter the canyon, you must have a Navajo guide. Ten members of our group took a four-hour horseback ride through a portion of the north fork of the Canyon. Our guides, Terrell and James, showed us many Anasazi ruins that cannot be seen from the overlooks off the road around the canyon. We saw petroglyphs, pictographs, and -- as usual -- beautiful red rock formations.

(Above six photos by Cindy Killion)

(Above two photos by Cory Hinz)

(Above two photos by Sarah Botzek)

Here's a photo of JoJo, by Kim Streblow. After riding JoJo for four hours, Kim decided JoJo may have been possessed, schizophrenic, or just plain ornery.

We all had a great time and enjoyed the experience. In the evening, around the fire at the center of our dorm hogan, there were lots of "sore butt" comments. 

(This photo, of Pete applying some padding to a sore spot on his inner thigh, by Andrew Neumann.)

Pete Swanson shot some video while on horseback and loaded the video to YouTube. Here's two links to check out Pete's videos:


Jessica, Katie and Cindy chose to not ride the horses and instead visited a gift shop and drove around to the very south eastern end of Canyon de Chelly to view the dramatic Spider Rock from an overlook.

(Above two photos by Katie Boone)

(Above two photos by Jessica Larsen)

Back at the dorm on the Diné College campus, we had a little birthday celebration for Sarah Botzek who turned 23 today. Happy Birthday Sarah! Look at that smile!

(Photo by Andrew Neumann)

(Photo by Andrew Neumann)