Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 18-19, 2010

Canyon de Chelly

The Winona State University and Diné College Navajo Oral History 2010 group had the experience of a lifetime the past two days. Get a beverage and a comfortable chair ... and enjoy an explanation of the activities and lots of great images.

On Tuesday morning we drove to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument headquarters and met Lettie and Flemin Nave, and a few of their relatives. Members of the Nave family were our hosts for a cultural adventure in the Canyon.

Lettie is a Navajo woman who grew up in the Canyon with her traditional Navajo family.

She and her husband, Flemin, were educators for many years on the Navajo Nation before they retired about 15 years ago. Lettie and Flemin, along with their daughter, Becky, son-in-law, Rico, and nephew, Thomas, gave so much of themselves to us for a couple days.

We hiked in the canyon with Thomas and saw amazing Anasazi ruins such as the well-known White House Ruins, and rock art in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs that few white people ever get to see.

(above two photos by Robbie Christiano)

(Altyn Burnside shows Ben Chambers how to use sage to clear his sinuses.)

(Kelly Sharatt, Brianna Klapperich and Ben Haskie made friends. Photo by Jenn Westman)

(above White House Ruins photo by Robbie Christiano)

(above White House Ruins photo by Brianna Klapperich)

(Ben Chambers explores early Navajo period hand print pictographs. Photo by Michael Ruka)

(The Two-Ben Crew: Ben Haskie riding on Ben Chambers' shoulders. Photo by Jenn Westman)

(Hiking the Canyon, left to right: our guide Thomas, Robbie Christiano, Tom Grier. Photo by Brianna Klapperich)

Lettie and Becky cooked up a great dinner of Navajo tacos and stew, and we all helped to make our own fry bread. We enjoyed Navajo tea with our meal and all ate way too much.

(above two photos by Robbie Christiano)

Ben Haskie made his own rock art, and he and Tom Grier presented it to the Anasazi with some flowers and a little prayer, and placed it in one of the caves featuring ancient petroglyphs. (photo by Robbie Christiano)

A large group of students explored the canyon walls around the camp site.

(Brianna Klapperich checks out an Anasazi pottery shard along the hike. Photo by Ben Chambers)

After dinner, Lettie told us about her life: growing up with her grandparents, sheep farming, hiking all the tails of the canyons, etc. She also made us laugh often as she told of how she and Flemin met and married. Flemin filled in many details and occasionally good-naturedly disagreed with his bride of 40 years.

We learned and played "The Stick Game" which Albert Haskie (Prof. Miranda Haskie's son) won in grand fashion. He scored the highest possible score on each of his three turns. We cheered loudly for him and his smile lit up the campsite as the sun was beginning to set.

Michael Ruka, one of our WSU student journalists earned his nickname, "Uno" at camp. You might like to think it means "he's #1" or "the leader," While those fit, the nickname really came about because during this stick game, Michael scored exactly one point during each of his first three turns at the game.

We talked long into the night around a nice campfire discussing tribal politics, Navajo culture, stories, ceremonies, and why young people of all cultures don't seem to respect "the old ways" until they grow up a bit.

(above photo by Sawyer Derry)

We were woken up several times during the night by free-range horses wandering through the canyon very near our tents and calling to each other. Very cool!

(above photo by Sawyer Derry)

(above photo by Ben Chambers)

Speaking of cool ... it got down to 37 degrees in the canyon last night, so we were all shivering a bit as we woke up.

(above photo of Jenn Westman snuggled in her sleeping bag by Michael Ruka)

Things started warming up when Flemin began flipping the blue corn meal pancakes. We had a delicious breakfast of the pancakes, sausage, ham, boiled eggs, and, of course, Navajo tea.

After breakfast, Lettie gave us a demonstration of some Navajo weaving and grinding skills and some of us took a turn grinding blue corn, which is harder than it looks.

(Kelly Sharatt grinding corn. Photo by Ben Chambers)

We broke camp and packed up all our gear. During this time, Robbie Christiano earned his nickname "Eagle Scout," for two reasons: he IS an Eagle Scout, and he really helped with the tent tear down, folding and packing.

Before we left camp, Lettie led us in a traditional round dance and then prayed a Navajo blessing for safe travels and a successful journey for us all. It was hard for us to leave. In a just a little more than 24 hours, we felt we had made friends with the members of this amazing family who are very successful at combining traditional and modern ways.

(Tom Grier talking with Lettie Nave in the morning, prior to leaving camp. Photo by Ben Chambers)

These meaningful encounters are a major part of this journey-- even if they're not directly related to the documentary journalism part of the curriculum. We're breaking down barriers, and learning across cultures.

Thomas then led us on a hike across the bottom of the canyon for about 3.5 miles during which we crossed the stream "Chinle Wash" several times. Finally, we climbed up the canyon wall about 150 feet using toe and hand holds, steps carved from the rocks, and park service stairs.

(Tom Grier and our guide, Thomas, crossing Chinle Wash. Photo by Sawyer Derry)

(Ben Chambers sinking knee deep in clay-mud. Photo by Sawyer Derry)

We were all tired and breathing hard. As we neared the end of the hike, Kelly Sharatt earned her nickname, "Mama Piquita" which for our group means "little mother." Kelly is so kind and caring, always looking out for others, and even scolding some to be careful, to put on sunscreen, etc.

We had lunch at Burger King then drove back to campus for a lecture on Navajo culture from Dr. Wesley Thomas, Dean of the faculty of the Diné College Diné Studies Program.

For supper, Michael and Kelly made homemade pizza and scones. Some of the students went out and played a round of Disc Golf on campus. Later in the evening, many students were busy reviewing and editing their photos.

Now it's off to bed for a good night's sleep and an early start tomorrow when the groups will complete a work project for their assigned elders, then interview them.

I want all parents, family members and friends to know how well this program is progressing. I'm watching while our WSU students are experiencing so many things for the first time. They are curious, respectful, kind and helpful. Don't be surprised if your loved ones return from this trip and seem changed in some ways. Their eyes and hearts are opening to new ways of thinking and living.

-- Tom Grier

Below, are many more beautiful images created by members of the group.

(above two photos by Altyn Burnside)

(above two photos by Jenn Westman)

(above four photos by Michael Ruka)

(above two photos by Sawyer Derry)

(above two photos by Brianna Klapperich)

Nickname Update: Eventually, the students all earn a nickname that is carefully considered and conferred by Prof. Tom Grier, usually with some help from other members of the group. The nicknames spring from the activities, and once conferred, immediately are accepted and widely used. Some happen right away, some take longer to develop.

Nicknames conferred so far:

Ben "Pod Jockey" or "P.J." Chambers

Robbie "Eagle Scout" Christiano

Sawyer "Monkey Boy" Derry

Brianna "Napster" Klapperich

Michael "Uno" Ruka

Kelly "Mama Piquita" Sharatt

I'm still working on just the right nickname for Jennifer Westman, and I've heard rumblings that the students are working on one for me.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for providing this extraordinary, once in a lifetime opportunity, as well as for your blog. It’s awesome to be able to follow the day’s events, in addition to being able to view the pictures. The WSU students are truly blessed to have you as their professor. The memories they’ll carry from this experience will be invaluable. You are all in my prayers.