Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Sunday, Nov. 15, a group of seven Winona State University students and two faculty members flew to Arizona to attend a reception at Diné College honoring the collaborative journalism projects completed this past summer by students of both institutions.

It was nearly 50 degrees back home in Winona, Minnesota, while there was snow on the ground in Tsaile, Arizona.

While on campus on Monday, Nov. 16, the students attended Dr. Miranda Haskie's class and heard guest speaker Perry Charlie discuss environmental issues and energy concerns of the Navajo Nation.

Monday evening, about 100 people attended the premier and reception and watched several documentary journalism projects focused on the lives of five Navajo elders. Three of the elders were present and commented on the projects following viewing of their features.

The evening began with comments by Dr. Miranda Haskie of Diné College, one of the organizers of the journalism collaboration.

Dr. Ferlin Clark, president of Diné College, the Tribal College of the Navajo Nation, gave a keynote address congratulating the students on their hard work and dedication, and thanking them for their important contribution to preserving the stories of the elders.

Organizers then showed several of the student projects and invited comments from each of the students involved, and then the elders.

As the program came to a close, Dr. Cindy Killion and Dr. Tom Grier, members of the faculty of the Winona State University Department of Mass Communication, described their feelings about the collaboration and future plans for similar programs.

Short versions of the journalism projects are available for viewing on the WSU Mass Communication department's web site:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Navajo Oral History Reception at WSU

Four guests from Diné College of the Navajo Nation spent Friday (Nov. 13) in Minnesota seeing sights between the Minneapolis airport and Winona, touring the Winona State University campus, speaking to a journalism class, and being a part of a reception honoring student-created documentary journalism projects.

Dr. Miranda Haskie, a faculty member at Diné College, led the group which included Diné students Derrick Harvey, Larissa Jimmy, and Krystle Sorrell. The guests enjoyed a brief visit to the Mall of America and were impressed by the Mississippi River. They heard the story of Princess Wenonah and Maiden Rock. They said they were inspired by the beautiful view of the river and the city of Winona from Garvin Heights.

While on campus, they were interviewed by journalism students in Prof. Drake Hokanson's News Writing class and then toured the WSU Mass Communication department facilities including KQAL, the campus radio station, studios, and the TV studio.

In the evening, the Diné College guests joined the group of WSU students they worked closely with this past summer, to host a reception and premiere of the Oral History projects that were the result of collaborative teamwork.

More than 100 people were present to view the projects and hear the students talk about the experience of meeting the elders, working with them, and faithfully recording their life stories.

(Photo of the Reception in WSU's East Hall by Chops Hancock.)

Several of the projects are available for viewing on the WSU Mass Communication department's Lab web site: All of the projects will be archived permanently at the Navajo Nation Museum and Navajo Nation Library, as well as at the libraries of Diné College and Winona State University.

Seven students and two faculty from Winona State are traveling to Arizona this weekend to host a second reception on Monday evening at 5:30 p.m. at Diné College.

Organizers of this project gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Winona State University Foundation and the Winona State University Student Senate in helping to fund the travel and planing of these receptions.

Thanks also to all the students, faculty and employees of both institutions that helped make this important project a reality.

(Group Photo by WSU student Kali Kotz.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Receptions are Planned -- Please Come!

Students from Winona State University of Minnesota, and from Diné College of the Navajo Nation, worked together on collaborative journalism teams this summer to create Oral History projects focused on Navajo elders.

Five elders were interviewed several times each. The student groups used a variety of media: the written word, still photographs, and audio and video recording for their projects. Students researched, wrote, recorded, edited, proofread and finally produced finished pieces that tell the story of five amazing Navajo elders and their lives of service to their people, and the world.

The elders included in the project are:

- Beulah Allen, one of the first Navajo medical doctors, and the person who helped create the Emergency Medical Service providing ambulance and quick response medical care across the Navajo Nation.

- Wilson Aronilth, Jr., a faculty member in the Center for Diné Studies at Diné College, and author of several textbooks on Navajo Culture.

- Ruth Roessel, an educator and founder of the Rough Rock Community School in Rough Rock, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. In addition, Ruth and her husband, Bob Roessel, are credited with helping to found Navajo Community College in the 1960s-- Now Diné College.

- Sam Tso, a Navajo Code Talker, who fought in the South Pacific during World War II and who has many stories about how his Navajo Culture not only helped the U.S. win the war, but also helped him stay alive during many heated battles.

- Harry Walters, a recently retired faculty member at Diné College who also was the founding director of the Ned Hatathli Museum of Navajo Culture at Diné College. An artist and Navajo Culture expert, Harry has been a consultant and featured speaker in a number of national articles and documentaries on Navajo life and living.

In late May 2009, 12 Winona State University students traveled to Tsaile, Arizona, home of Diné College, and worked for three weeks with 9 Diné College students. They completed service projects for each of the elders and then interviewed their subjects. In July and August, the students collaborated via email and web to complete their documentary projects that were then presented to Navajo Nation leaders on the Human Research Review Board who unanimously approved the publishing and distributing of the work.
In recognition of the collaborative nature of the projects, two receptions are planned; one at Winona State University and one at Diné College, to celebrate the efforts and accomplishment of the students and to debut the documentary pieces.

The first reception is planned for Friday, Nov. 13, beginning at 5 p.m. in East Hall of the Kryzsko Commons Student Union building at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. The second reception is planed for Monday, Nov. 16, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Ned Hatathli Museum, 4th Floor of the Hatathli Center main administration building at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

Each reception will run about 90 minutes and will include showing many of the documentary projects and comments from the students involved in the project. Six students and faculty members from Diné College are traveling from Arizona to Minnesota for the Winona reception, and nine students and faculty from Winona are planning to be present at the Tsaile reception.
The media and the general public are invited to either or both receptions. Light refreshments will be served.

Following the receptions, the finished documentary projects will be given to the Navajo Nation Museum, The Navajo Nation Library, and the libraries at Winona State University and Diné College for cataloging and archiving. Copies have also been given to The Winona Daily News and the Navajo Times for their consideration to print or publish the pieces on their web sites. The projects will also be available for viewing on the Winona State University Mass Communication department's web site ( that highlights student projects.
Funding to help cover the cost of the receptions, including travel expenses for participants, was received from the WSU Foundation's Special Projects program and the WSU Student Senate's Student Activity program.

As the lead faculty member on this project, I'm so proud of the students and their hard work. I had the initial idea for this project nearly four years ago. After much time and effort was spent building the relationship and trust with several colleagues at Diné College, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Miranda Haskie, a faculty member in Diné College's Humanities and Fine Arts division. She immediately saw the potential for this project and the value it had for the students, and for the Navajo Nation as a whole. She and I are talking about ways to continue this project so more of the stories of Navajo elders can be collected, protected and shared.

Thank you to all who have had a hand in helping to make this project a reality. Especially, I want to thank the elders for being willing to share their lives and ideas; and the parents, family members and friends of the students involved for supporting them with time, money, and encouragement, so they could truly put their hearts into their work.

Each project is done so incredibly well, and faithfully tells the stories of the lives of these elders. They are important pieces of journalism that will stand the test of time. Long after we're gone, scholars will view and read the work of these students and will gain a greater understanding of the Navajo culture of the early 21st century.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Navajo Nation Approval!

Congratulations to Diné College and Winona State University, and specifically to the students involved in the collaboration project between the two schools this past summer.

Today (Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009) the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board unanimously approved the final report and approved the publishing of the student projects. Board members are pleased that the projects will be distributed to the elders involved and published in variety of ways so people can see and learn from them.

My faculty colleague from Diné College, Miranda Haskie, and I are planning celebratory receptions to debut the projects and honor the students' hard work. We want to host a reception at both institutions, and hope to have students from both schools present at each event.
The first reception will be held Friday, Nov. 13, on the Winona State University campus, and the second on Monday, Nov. 16, at the Diné College campus in Tsaile, Arizona. Both receptions will begin at 5 p.m.

Parents and friends of the students are invited to attend the receptions.

At each reception, there will be a few brief congratulatory speeches, and several of the projects will be shown. Then the participating students will each be asked to offer their comments about the project and their efforts.

At about the same time of the receptions, plans call for the pieces to be published on the Winona360 web site (a WSU Mass Communication department site dedicated to showcasing student projects), as well as by the Winona Daily News and the Navajo Times newspapers.

These important Navajo Oral History projects will be archived for all time at the Navajo Nation Museum, Navajo Nation Library, and at Winona State University and Diné College.

As soon as the pieces are available for on-line viewing, I'll include links from here on this blog.
Thanks to everyone for their support during this project. The excellent work of the students has been recognized and rewarded.

-- Tom Grier, Winona State University

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Next Step

The DVDs are done are they look great.

Last week, I created a two-disc DVD set which included all the student-produced videos from the summer Travel Study Navajo Nation Oral History projects.

On the DVDs were the Living History features on the Navajo elders. These are documentary videos of between eight and 20 minutes. The DVDs also contain the Media pieces on the elders, which are much shorter, generally four minutes or less focused on one main aspect of the elder's life story.

A couple projects are well-edited videos with live action footage, interviews and narration. A couple other features were SoundSlides projects: multimedia presentations that combine still photographs, music and audio.

I assembled packets that included the DVDs plus the written articles the groups created about the Navajo elders they interviewed, and one group's feature page which was a completely laid-out newspaper page including a feature article, headline, subheads, photos and captions.

All put together, it's an impressive package that really shows how hard the students in these collaboration groups worked to faithfully and respectfully tell the stories of these Navajo elders. I am so proud of their work, and am honored to be a part of their efforts.
Now, the next steps.

The packets were sent to the Navajo Nation. In mid-October, I'll travel to tribal headquarters in Window Rock, Arizona, and defend the projects in front of the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board. Board members will have had time to review the work prior to my arrival. They'll ask some questions, and hopefully approve the projects so we can publish them and let all of you see them!

I sent a DVD to my colleague and faculty partner in this project, Dr. Miranda Haskie, a professor at Diné College. She and her family live on the Navajo Nation and have found ways to balance traditional Navajo culture with modern ways of living and learning. If you follow this blog, you've heard much about Miranda and her talented jewelry artist husband, Vernon.

She emailed me to say she and her family watched the DVD and were pleased with the quality of the production. She commented on how each project was done professionally and that each "attest(s) to the vibrancy of the Navajo culture."

Her positive comments mean so much to me and to the students. She validates the student's work. But, I want to be clear: none of the student's great work could have happened without Prof. Miranda Haskie's excellent and compassionate help and guidance.

There's so much more to say... but I'll save some of that for about 30 days from now.

On Oct. 20, Prof. Haskie and I will make our presentation to the Navajo Nation. Make a note to check this blog that day or the next. I'll be sure to let you know the outcome of that meeting.

I know it seems a long time to wait to see the fruits of these students' hard work. But, that's another aspect to this important project. From the very beginning we committed to doing everything correctly and honorably. We sought all the appropriate permissions. We filed all the required paperwork. And we honored all our commitments.

Many Navajos don't have much experience with descendants of Europeans actually doing what they say they're going to do.

Our Winona State University group, with the help of our colleagues and fellow students from Diné College, are trying to create a new way of understanding and relating between our cultures. This summer project has been a large step in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Final Projects are Near

I've received emails from several people in the past week or so, asking about the progress on our Navajo Oral History projects.

I've spoken with many of the students in the past 10 days, either on the phone, via email, or by Facebook or Twitter messages. They assure me they are finishing up their projects, doing final edits, cleaning up some images, video or audio, etc.

As soon as I get the finished pieces from all five groups, I'll be showing them to Dr. Cindy Killion here at WSU for her opinion. Then, I'll package them and burn them to DVD and print any needed accompanying documents, and prepare to send the materials to the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board. They'll have about three weeks to look them over. I'll make a presentation to them and hopefully receive resounding approval.

Pending approval, we'll plan and host receptions to show the work to all interested people, and present copies to the elders. Once that's complete, we'll find a way to post the projects for viewing either here on this web blog, or on the WSU MCOM web site.

I know many people are eager to see the student's work. I am too. I'll let you know when I have the projects in hand. As always, thanks for your support for this important project.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Final Drafts of Documentary Projects

Today (Monday, July 20), most of our class was able to meet in Winona, and connect with our colleagues in Tsaile, Arizona, via Interactive Television. We discussed each group's projects, made sure we had all release forms, rights forms and documentation. Then we looked at several of the projects that are near completion.

We saw several videos and some Soundslides projects which combine natural audio, music, text and still photographs into a multi-media presentation.

Wow! The projects are amazing. Thoughtful and insightful. After watching the pieces, we all felt we knew the elders featured a little better.

After we watched each piece, everyone offered constructive criticism. Only minor things need to be done to a few pieces; things like minor adjustments to sound volume or increasing the size of photo captions to ensure they are readable.

I know many blog readers are eager to see the results of the student's hard work. You'll get to see the projects as soon as possible. We still have an approval hurdle or two to clear before that can happen.

As part of seeking official clearance to do these projects on the Navajo Nation, we committed to show the projects to the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board prior to any publishing.

The students will make final changes and edits to their pieces in the next couple weeks. Then, we'll take a week or so to prepare the packages that gather all the pieces into one easily-viewed DVD. We'll send copies of the DVD to the Tribal headquarters. It will take some time for the members of the HRRB to review all the materials. Professor Miranda Haskie of Diné College and myself will then appear before the board to hear their comments and seek their clearance.

Then, finally, we'll be able to publish the pieces, host celebration receptions, and give copies of the finished projects to the elders and their families.

We plan to publish the pieces on the WSU Mass Communication department's web site: They'll also be given to Diné College, The Navajo Times, The Winona Daily News, The Navajo Nation Museum, and the Navajo Nation Library.

The students involved in this program have worked hard, from their initial research during spring semester well before our class began meeting, to the in-the-field interviews, and finally dozens and dozens of hours of transcribing, organizing, editing and producing their documentary projects. Their hard work has paid off... you'll see soon!

Photo by Chops Hancock