Monday, May 31, 2010

Return Drive Day 2

I spent nearly the whole day in the van (Monday, May 31, 2010). I left Lamar, Colorado, at about 8 a.m., and ended up stopping in a small town between Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, at 10 p.m.

This leaves me about 7 or 8 hours of driving for tomorrow and I'll be home in Winona Tuesday evening. I'll unload all the gear and return the rental van. Then, I'll get organized so I can meet with the students for our Friday morning, June 4, class.

No photos to publish today, though I did take a few neat pictures of some historic old courthouses in small towns across Kansas and Nebraska.

I thought I would share a few of the comments I've received from Winona State University students who participated in the 2010 Navajo Oral History program at Diné College. I asked the students to spend a few minutes after they got home to think about what they learned, what they experience, and what the journey meant to them. I asked them to write a couple sentences of reflection and email them to me.

I haven't heard from them all yet. Below, I'm posting the ones I have received.

I'm really looking forward to seeing/hearing what the students teams have put together.
Thanks for reading,

-- Tom Grier

2010 Navajo Oral History Project Student Reflections:

Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people and experience a region/culture that I have never had the opportunity to experience. Not only did I see tons of cool sights, but I was also to take more than 1,000 photos of all these new experiences. Out of all this, meeting John Kinsel, Sr. was the most interesting. That man can talk for hours and has an incredible life story. It was a joy to hear ~5 hours of this life tale, and I am looking forward to compiling the many photos, video clips and sound bites into a finished project in this coming week. Hopefully John will enjoy what our group is able to put together.

-- Michael A. Ruka

Looking back on this trip, I wouldn’t change much at all. With the small group of people we were able to become very close over the two week period. Every person was dedicated to the project which made a great work environment. Learning about another culture inside our own was an eye opener for me. I’ve always been interested in traveling but now I realize that I don’t have to go outside of the country to learn new ways of life. This travel study put together most everything I could have asked for: hiking, camping, taking photographs, and meeting new people.

Thanks for a great experience Tom Grier!

-- Brianna Klapperich

The trip to the Navajo Reservation couldn't have gone any smoother. The hiking and camping at Lettie Nave's was probably my favorite part. The people I met were so welcoming and the landscape there was so beautiful. Interviewing a Navajo code talker was a once in a lifetime experience, hearing his stories first-hand rather than in a history class gave me a new perspective. I think that because we had such a small group I got to know each person really well, I fee like I've known them for more than the two weeks, they are my new "res" friends. All in all, it was a great experience. I did many things out of my comfort zone and enjoyed every minute of it.

-- Jennifer Westman

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day #15 – Airport - Return Drive Day 1

It was both an exciting and sad day today (Sunday, May 30, 2010) as the 2010 Navajo Oral History project group packed up their gear and luggage and made the 4.5 hour drive from Tsaile, Arizona to the Albuquerque Airport to return home.

The photo below of the Ned Hatathli Center at Diné College is by Brianna Klapperich.

We were up before the sun to get everything packed and to get to the airport a couple hours ahead of the flights.

Ernestine Sanisya, one of our Diné College student partners, got up early also to come to our residence hall and send us off with hugs and good wishes. Plus, today was Ernestine's birthday.

After the students were dropped at the airport, they had some time to kill in the terminal and took some pictures there, and on the plane.

(above four photos by Michael Ruka)

(above three photos by Brianna Klapperich)

(above photo is by Michael Ruka)

(above four photos by Brianna Klapperich)

Once I was sure the student's flights were on as scheduled, I headed down the highway in the van filled with our stuff, heading east and north toward Minnesota. The drive will be about 30 hours over three days.

As I drove, I thought a lot about the past two weeks. The students really got to know each other well, and built positive working relationships and friends with each other, and with me. We laughed a lot during this trip, and helped each other through times of stress that naturally come from doing important work that spans two diverse cultures.

I also thought quite a bit about the 2009 Navajo Oral History project students who served as the trail-blazers during the pilot year. The 2009 students helped shaped the program and gave so much of themselves and their skills to their Navajo elders. Even after their journey was done, they continued to help me by promoting the value of the program to future students through visits to class and meetings.

I thought it would be appropriate to list the 2009 student participants here, as a way of thanking them for their role in making this program a success.

2009 Navajo Oral History Project students:

Maya Acevedo, Diné College

Cassondra Begaye, Diné College

Katie Boone, Winona State University

Sarah Botzek, Winona State University

David Busse, Winona State University

Stephan Chase, Diné College

Eli Francis, Diné College

Brandi Hagen, Winona State University

Derrick Harvey, Diné College

Cory Hinz, Winona State University

Larissa Jimmy, Diné College

Danny John, Diné College

Jessica Larsen, Winona State University

Andrew Neumann, Winona State University

Steph Precourt, Winona State University

Krystle Sorrell, Diné College

Kim Streblow, Winona State University

Peter Swanson, Winona State University

Matt Wandzel, Winona State University

After the 2009 journey was complete, a few of those students wrote a reflection quote about their experience:

"I never thought I could learn so much about myself in a place I have never been to. I took chances, climbed canyons and saw first-hand the affects of the past. I wouldn't trade it for any other trip." -- Jessica Larsen, senior MCOM-journalism major

"There is something about the land and the people here that urge you to document this great place and an amazing people." -- Peter Swanson, senior MCOM-advertising major

"It was an incredible journey. It literally changed how I saw the world." -- Katie Boone, senior MCOM-broadcasting major

I've asked the 2010 Navajo Oral History project participants to write a short reflection of their journey. When I receive those, I'll share them here on this blog.

-- Tom Grier

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day #14 – TeePee Help - Horses in Canyon Del Muerto

This may sound strange to say, because we've had so many amazing activities and experiences in the past two weeks ... but, today (Saturday, May 29, 2010) might be the highlight day of the trip.

We started the morning by getting up before the sunrise and heading up into the Chuska Mountains above Tsaile, Arizona. Altyn Burnside, one of the Diné College students that is part of our 2010 Navajo Oral History project, is a ceremony singer and he invited us to help him set up a TeePee for a Native American Church ceremony.

(above two photos by Michael Ruka)

Of course, we said "yes" and got up before dawn to get there early and help. Turns out we not only helped with the TeePee, but also to clean up the property, assemble a 20 foot by 20 foot awning, and constructed a shade arbor area out of logs, pine branches and a tarp. All of this was to help a Navajo family get ready for a graduation party for one of their daughters who just graduated from Northern Arizona University.

(above photo by Brianna Klapperich)

(above six photos by Michael Ruka)

(above three photos by Brianna Klapperich)

(Both Robbie and Ben poked themselves in the palms of their hands while working on a sun shelter, so Prof. Grier patched them up: he is a doctor, you know! -- Well, not THAT kind of doctor. Photo by Michael Ruka)

It was hard work, and they fed us sausage, eggs, fry bread, and blue corn mixed oatmeal. We felt blessed to be able to help and to be a part of the TeePee raising, a sight most white people are not able to see.

We got back to the residence hall in time for a quick lunch, then headed to Wheatfields Lake to meet up one last time with Grandmother Thomas so Kelly Sharratt, Robbie Christiano and I could say goodbye to her. A few more photos were taken, hugs were shared all around, and Grandma Thomas signed some autographs on a book Robbie bought, and on posters for Kelly and I.

In the afternoon, we drove to Chinle, to the mouth of Canyon de Chelly. On the way, Sawyer Derry finally relented and allowed his hair to be braided.

(above photo by Michael Ruka)

We rented horses for a two-hour Navajo-guided trail ride through the north spur of the canyon, called Canyon del Muerto.

(above photo by Michael Ruka)

It was a fun ride, but just the right length. Some of us are sore -- me probably more than the students.

Tonight, we'll stay in the residence hall, work on edits for our projects, pack all our gear, and get ready for an early check-out and drive to the Albuquerque Airport.

(above photo by Sawyer Derry)

It has been a great trip -- more than expected in so many ways. Last year was the first year of the collaborative Winona State University-Diné College Navajo Oral History Program. It was a great program with talented and committed students, and the finished documentaries were excellent. By all indications, the projects this year will eclipse last year (sorry 2009 students).

For this year, Prof. Miranda Haskie and I ironed out some bugs, tightened the schedule, and increased our expectations. In every case the students have impressed us. Even Chops Hancock who was along for the 2009 trip said he hated to admit it, but he thought this group of students seemed even more dedicated than last year.

To all you parents, friends, family members, etc.: THANK YOU for loaning your students to us for these two weeks for this very important project. I know they all miss home and are excited to be coming back to you all. But, I also know they have a special place in their hearts now for the Navajo Nation. They'll be sad to leave here, and I have no doubt they'll soon make plans to return.

Thanks again for everything ... I'm looking forward to sharing the finished projects with you this fall.

-- Tom Grier