Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 14: Canyon de Chelly -Spider Rock

Since the Navajo Oral History project group didn't get back to the dorms until after 2 a.m. on Saturday night (Sunday Morning), everyone slept late on Sunday (June 17, 2012) and we had a "catch-up" day.

Many groups met to talk about their transcriptions and begin planing the narration for their documentary videos.

In the afternoon, we took a trip to Chinle, Arizona. We made a quick stop at Changing Woman Coffee, a cool little shop right at the mouth of the canyon for coffee or smoothies.

Then, the group visited the Spider Rock overlook into Canyon de Chelly National Monument.


(above four photos by Sammi Luhmann)

The last photo above is of a dead oak tree that clings to a rock above the Spider Rock overlook. Prof. Tom Grier photographs this tree every time he visits the Canyon. He has about 500 images of this tree...  Something about the tree says tenacity and life in a stark and unforgiving high desert location.  The tree reminds Grier of the Navajo People: Through adversity and lack of resources, they remain resilient, beautiful and valuable. 

After a quick stop at the local grocery store, we returned to campus where we all enjoyed a delicious stir-fry and eggroll meal made by Stefani Schmidt, with help from some of her classmates.

The group of Winona State University and Diné College students who are on schedule to interview Navajo Code Talker Joe Vandever on Monday, had a long, intense meeting in the late afternoon where they went over everything to make sure their interview goes well.

Because of Joe Vandever's schedule, this group is doing their first interview with him on Monday.  That's quite a bit behind the other groups... but these students (Shannon Bolte, Joel Farber, James McKenzie and Shawn Tsosie) are very well prepared and will no doubt have a good day of interviewing and shooting b-roll video.

After dinner, a small group walked around the Diné College campus and played a short round of disc golf. (Sorry no photos ... I was too serious about throwing well, forgot the camera.)

Now, it's time to get a bit philosophical and thoughtful.  Why are we here?  What is this all about?

If you've been following the blog, you already know the Navajo Oral History project is about: a.) cultural exchange and understanding, b.) practicing and honing journalism skills, and c.) telling important, factual stories about Navajo elders that will stand the test of time.

More than that, but in an un-stated way, this program is about developing something inside each participant.  It's about growth as a human being, as a member of the larger world community, as a respectful, thoughtful, kind and caring person.  It's difficult to put that in a course description or class syllabus.  Nonetheless, this kind of thing is happening day by day here on the Navajo Nation.

As the professor and leader of the class, I see the subtle changes in the students.  I'm sure the student's friends and loved ones will sense changes in them also.

Now that they have spent two weeks on the Navajo Nation, I asked the students to spend a few minutes and write a line or two about whatever they wanted to say about the trip.  Here's what some of them wrote:

Being involved in this project has opened my eyes to the Navajo culture. They welcome us into their lives and homes and make you feel like a member of their family. I have grown so attached to this place in the few weeks that we have been here.   
-- Shannon Bolte

Not even a year ago my mindset was totally different in the ways I viewed Native American culture. Hearing, preparing, and now even taking part in this project has completely opened my eyes to how naïve I was. During this trip, I was able to see and experience life on the reservation. Being here has enabled me to understand the challenges that the Diné people had to-- and still have to-- overcome. I hate seeing the negative footprints that the early Americans and poorly officiated government entities leave here in the Navajo Nation. I believe that the Navajo Oral History Project is one small step in the direction of mending both cultures and I am glad to be a part of it.
-- Joel Farber

Our group has such a variety of personalities that work in such a unique way. The people here are making this once in a lifetime experience even better. I only hope I can keep the relationships I have gained from this trip after our departure from the Navajo Reservation. 
-- Kelsey Foss

Living on the reservation has been a real eye-opening experience for me.  The Navajo people have welcomed us with open arms since day one, despite having every reason to be wary of outsiders.  I feel honored having been welcomed into their homes and being allowed to take part in traditional ceremonies.  I have made connections here that I am sure I will never forget. The scenery is wonderful and just being in the presence of these true American heros, the Navajo Code Talkers, has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  If given the chance to take part in this project again, I wouldn't hesitate.
-- Liam Krause

This trip was an exceptional, once in a lifetime experience for a few reasons. It was an opportunity for students to be submerged in real-life journalism, telling stories of people and a culture who matter. I learned a vast amount about personal character and being humble from the elder my group was assigned, Chester Nez. He experienced hardship and triumph growing up on the Navajo Reservation where his family's livestock was burned and killed by the government. He was punished in boarding school for speaking in his Navajo language. But still, he later volunteered for the Marine Corps and defended his country (under that same government) on the front lines of WWII as one of the Original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, where he aided in creating a code that helped the U.S. win the war against the Japanese. He married and had a family, but lost three of his children, and his spouse. Yet, he still says his life was 100% and he's so happy to have helped his country. Talk about a humble man. Meeting Chester and the other elders, and creating these documentaries with our team from Winona State University and Diné College has been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. I can't wait to see everyone's final projects and share them with the families (and the stars!) at the premiere in the fall. Thank you to Tom, Miranda and Robbie for putting together such a wonderful trip. It brings a tear to my eye that the trip has come to an end. Thank you to everyone on the Navajo Reservation who made us feel welcome and at home. Best of luck to all as we complete our documentaries via ITV sessions from Winona to Tsaile. I've learned a lot on this photojournalism trip, but most importantly, to forever "Walk in Beauty". ♥
-- Kelly Kusilek

Living on the Navajo Reservation has been a very eye-opening experience for me. While getting to know the elders, I've learned that life should be measured by the amount of love surrounding us, not by wealth or fortune.
-- Sammi Luhmann

Navajos are some of the most caring and appreciative people I have ever met. Their culture and history run thick like blood through them and the opportunity not only to learn but also to participate in some of their beliefs and traditions is a privilege that I will be forever grateful for.
-- Laura McCormick

I never thought such an amazing place could exist a few states away. I've spent so much time wanting to travel the world but after this I want to see even more of America, and especially return to the Navajo Nation. I'm extremely grateful because I was introduced to so many wonderful people and saw beautiful places everyday.
-- Stefani Schmidt

For me the ceremony was an experience in which I will remember forever. During the songs, I could relax and think about my stuff, organize my mind, and dedicate a few prayers to the people I love and to those who are no longer here. There was a lot of people in the hogan, but when I closed my eyes I could only hear the chants and my thoughts. I don't know how to explain what I felt but it was a very interesting feeling. It was like a mix of trance and good feeling. When we finished, I felt better and had a calmness within me.
-- Elisenda Xifra Reverter

(The professor's heart swells with pride... all that is hoped for from this journey is coming to fruition: excellent documentaries and student growth -- but more than that -- human growth and compassion for people very different from oneself.)

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing project! Looking forward to seeing these documentaries.