Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 5 - Interviewing The Elders

Today was the first day for our student journalism teams to meet with the Navajo elder they are working with to create their oral history projects. Each student team provided several hours of physical labor for the elder, to help build a relationship based on respect and trust.

The work included: Moving brush, removing stumps, herding sheep and goats from one corral to another, weeding a garden, dismantling an outdoor oven-- including removing a black widow spider from it-- piling up downed trees, and digging a small retaining pool for a natural spring.

(Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this blog are by Tom Grier, Cindy Killion and Chops Hancock.)

Each team interviewed the elder for about an hour, talking about their life stories: birth, education, parents, siblings, marriages, children, military service, etc. This was the "getting to know you" phase of interviewing. Teams used a variety of media during the interviews: audio recorders, digital video cameras, still photography, and skillful note-taking.

The elders being interviewed include: Samuel Tso, one of the few remaining original Navajo Code Talkers from World War II; Dr. Beulah Allen, one of the first female medical doctors on the Navajo Nation, and recently retired director of the Tsaile, Arizona, Indian Health Services Clinic; Dr. Wilson Aronilth, an author, silversmith and faculty member in the Department of Diné Studies and Diné college; Ruth Roessel, among the founders of Diné College, educator and widow of Dr. Robert Roessel, the first president of Diné College; and Harry Walters, A Navajo culture specialist who recently retired after 35 years as a faculty member of Diné College and director of the Navajo Museum at Diné College.

(Above two photos by Miranda Haskie)

(photo by Matt Wandzel)

In the evening, the students gathered in our hogan-shaped dorm for a debriefing discussion of how first interviews went, and how to improve them before the second of three interviews with each elder.

At day's end, students and faculty alike had sore muscles and confident smiles. Friends were made among the students on the teams and with the elders. Only two and a half days into this adventure and we all feel very privileged to be involved in something very important, very meaningful.

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