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)
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