Saturday, June 25, 2011

Post Travel Class #1 - Drafts of Documentaries

The 2011 Navajo Oral History project had its first post-travel class on Friday (June 24, 2011) during which each student team presented drafts of their documentary projects.

The drafts looked very good. Still quite a bit of editing and tightening to do, and title slides and narration... but for first drafts, we were all quite impressed. All students in the class watched each draft and offered constructive criticism.

Now the groups will be working on the projects for the next week and preparing for a second draft viewing on Friday, June 31.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Post-Travel - The Real Work!

After almost 30 hours of driving, I made it home to Winona late Wednesday (actually early Thursday morning). While I was driving, the members of the 2011 Navajo Oral History project were working on their documentary films: writing the scripts for narration, editing video and audio clips, reading and re-reading transcripts, checking through digital photographs, etc.

The students from Diné College of Tsaile, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, and Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota, are staying in touch with each other via cell phones, email, Facebook, Skype, etc.

The whole class meets on Friday morning (June 24, 2011) via Interactive Television to get updates on the progress on the documentary films featuring Navajo elders, and to view the first drafts.

I know many people are eager to view the final projects. We won't be able to release them for public viewing for a few weeks yet. The pieces will be viewed by the class members several times, checked and double-checked for accuracy and also for cultural sensitivity. Once we're confident the pieces respectfully and compellingly tell the elder's stories, they will be released for viewing on the WSU Mass Communication department's web site:

(If you wish, visit that site and search "Navajo" and you'll be able to watch the media piece videos completed by the Navajo Oral History projects in 2009 and 2010.)

By September, DVD versions will be produced to give to the featured elders and their families, and to archive at the Navajo Nation Museum, Navajo Nation Library, and the libraries at both Winona State University and Diné College.

In October, the class will host two receptions to premiere the films: one in Winona, Minnesota, and one in Tsaile, Arizona.

Even though the 2.5 weeks of field work on the Navajo Nation is complete, the work goes on.

I'm so proud of the work of all students in the class.

The Diné College students were helpful and accommodating. They kindly and tactfully helped the visiting students understand the culture and learn about Navajo life and values.

The Winona State University students shared their knowledge and expertise with journalism, visual journalism, equipment, technology and software with each other and with their DC student teammates.

Throughout the field work, the students got along, helped each other, enjoyed each other's company, laughed a lot ... and learned.

To use an over-used cliché, this Navajo Oral History project is a classic win-win situation: The students learn by doing and gain confidence and professionalism while developing great portfolio pieces; and The Navajo Nation gains a series of very professional documentary films that help preserve and protect important life stories of Navajo elders.

Keep watching the blog for updates ... We'll keep you posted as work on the documentaries progresses.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 16 - Flying Home

Tuesday, June 21, 2011, was the last day in the field for the 2011 Navajo Oral History project. The group woke up early in the dorms at Diné College, packed all their gear into the van, and said their goodbyes to the beautiful Navajo Nation that had been their home for more than two weeks.

During the four-hour drive to the Albuquerque Airport, the students all shared their opinions on how the project has gone so far. They offered many suggestions for making the Navajo Oral History program even better in the future.

All agreed they got a lot out of participating, and learned a lot. When they arrived at ABQ, they got ready to take their flights back home, while I started the long drive across the country back home to Minnesota.

By evening, I had heard from many of them, that they had arrived home safely.

The students still have a couple days to work on the drafts of their documentary films on a Navajo elder. We're holding an ITV class between WSU in Winona, Minnesota, and Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, on Friday to look at the drafts and offer constructive criticism.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 15 - B-Roll, Window Repair & Hagonee'

Monday, June 20, 2011 was the catch-up day for the members of the 2011 Navajo Oral History Project.

(Pictured left to right: Jessica King, Tom Grier, Dave Dvorak, Micahel Ruka, Tashina Johnson, Trevor Foster, Robbie Christiano, Josh Averbeck, Alyssa Reimers, Shawn Tsosie, Alex Fisher, Molly Golden, Miranda Haskie. Not pictured: Lionel Harvey)

Several students spent most of the day on their computers transcribing interview text, editing video and audio, and beginning to plan the script for the narration of their documentary films about Navajo elders.

Another group went out for one last chance to catch some B-roll video to enhance their projects.

First, Dave Dvorak and Molly Golden shot video of the Fort Defiance Indian Health Service Hospital, which is where the elder they're featuring works. They climbed a tall hill across the highway from the hospital for a vantage point to pan the entire hospital campus.

The group then went to the Navajo Nation Tribal headquarters to shoot some video of featured elder Harold Morgan with a Red-Tail Hawk eagle feather fan the he discussed in an earlier interview. Harold had said the feathers were significant in his spiritual life because they were given to him by his father.

A third group drove to Gallup, New Mexico, to a pawn shop to locate a Navajo Code Talker Congressional Silver Medallion that was given to the Code Talkers in 2000 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. We had heard from John Kinsel, Sr., a code talker that our group interviewed last year, that his medallion was at the pawn shop. We found it and were able to take photos that may be used in the feature this year on Code Talker Keith Little.

While we were at the pawn shop, an auto glass shop down the street was able to replace the broken rear window of the rental van, and remove a nail from a rear tire.

On the way back to campus, we stopped for a quick shot of a sign overlooking Highway 264, which was dedicated recently as Navajo Code Talker's Highway. The highway stretches from Gallup, New Mexico to Window Rock, Arizona, the capitol of the Navajo Nation.

Once back on campus, several of the Diné College students in our class stopped by the dorm to wish the Winona State University group well as they prepared to return to Minnesota. Many hugs among new friends were shared along with promises to stay in touch.

The class will meet again this Friday morning (June 24) via Interactive Television connection between the two campuses, and groups will begin to critique the first drafts of the documentary films.

It has been a great 16 days on the Navajo Nation. The students all worked hard, and they tell me they learned much about themselves, each other, and the craft of journalism.

Though this is the end of the field-work portion of this project, it's not the end of the class or the blog. I'll keep updating this site as the projects near completion. I'll also use this space to let everyone know about dates for the Premiere Receptions which will be held this fall, most likely in early October at both WSU and DC.

For now, we'll end this blog by not saying "goodbye" but rather saying "Hagonee'" which is the traditional way of saying something like "until we meet again."

Day 14 - Breaking Camp

The 2011 Navajo Oral History project group spent 2.5 days camping with the Lettie and Flemen Nave family in Canyon de Chelly (June 17-19, 2011) and had a great time. We camped at the junction of Canyon Del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly at a place called "Dog Rock" because of the amazing rock formation that watches over the camp.

Lettie's family has lived on this property for many generations, traced back as far as the Treaty of 1868 following The Long Walk, and possibly even farther back.

The weekend with Lettie, Flemen, Becky, Rico, Thomas, and our whole gang of students and faculty was filled with good food, long hikes, interesting history, fun stories and lots of laughter.

Breakfast Sunday morning consisted of watermelon from the night before, and Becky's delicious Spam, Egg and Potato Burritos in handmade tortillas.

Lettie showed off her new earrings: beaded Green Bay Packer logos. This raised good feelings among several of our group who are Packer fans, and caused much laughter aimed at those of us who are Viking Fans.

(Above two photos by Alex Fisher)

After a Navajo prayer for safe travels and a round of hugs and a few tears, our group said goodbye to Lettie Nave and her family and headed back to the Diné College dorms.

The only casualty in the whole journey was one of the back windows of the Enterprise rental van.

Since it's not a 4-wheel drive, there's no way it could make it in and out of the canyon. It was parked overnight in the parking lot of the Thunderbird Lodge in Chinle, Arizona. When we returned to the vehicle, we found the back window busted, and found a small rock inside, probably launched at close range from a slingshot. Nothing was stolen, just a nuisance vandalism thing. We called the Navajo Police and filed a report, and called Enterprise to get their help with planning for a replacement window.

A couple of our journalism teams had planned to shoot B-roll in various locations Monday morning, including one stop in Gallup, New Mexico. We'll run by the Ford Dealer or a local auto glass place to try to have the window replaced before the long drive back to the Albuquerque airport on Tuesday, followed by the really long drive to Minnesota.

Overall, it was a great weekend. Everyone napped Sunday afternoon, then worked on their documentary projects in the evening. Most went to bed early to be bright and ready for the last day of interviews, video and still photography on Monday.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 13 - Ye'i Trail and Antelope House Ruins

Saturday, June 19, 2011, was a loooooong day for the members of the 2011 Navajo Oral History project.

The day started with a delicious breakfast of sausage, eggs and blue corn pancakes prepared by Flemen Nave and his daughter, Becky.

The group then hiked up Ye'i Trail: a trail that leads straight up the 350 foot high Canyon de Chelly canyon walls. The hikers used toe and hand holds carved in the rock hundreds of years ago, supplemented by bars and cables installed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Thomas Litson, our Navajo guide, who grew up in the canyon told us many stories of how he and his relatives ran up and down this trail several times a day, carrying feed for livestock, firewood, etc. Most in our group had rubbery legs when they reached the top.

(Above six photos by Alex Fisher)

After a three-mile hike across the fields on the canyon rim, we descended the Antelope House trail, ending at the famous Antelope House ruins. They get their name from the well-preserved rock art above the ruins.

(Above two photos by Alex Fisher)

We had a nice picnic lunch there and returned to the Nave Family's land for an afternoon of rest.

Dinner was a delicious stew of ground beef, beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and carrots, handmade tortillas, and watermelon for dessert.

After Dinner, Lettie Nave, who grew up in Canyon de Chelly with her parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and siblings, gave a presentation on Navajo culture including discussion of weaving, native plants and their use, basketry, pottery-making, spinning wool, traditional hair-tying.

Still tired from hiking, everyone crashed early Saturday night in their tents in Canyon de Chelly, with the sound of horses wandering by and cows mooing.

Day 12 - Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced duh-Shay') is one of the most interesting and historic places in the southwest United States. It is home to hundreds of Anasazi ruins sites, petroglyphs (art pecked into the rocks) and pictographs (art painted or drawn on the rocks) from centuries past.

Canyon de Chelly is also home to many Navajo families who have lived and farmed in the valley for centuries.

The entire area is known as Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and includes Canyon Del Muerto, the north fork, and Canyon de Chelly, the south fork. Non-Navajos are only allowed in the canyon as the guests of Navajo families who live there, or with a Navajo guide.

Our 2011 Navajo Oral History project group was fortunate to know the Lettie and Flemen Nave family well (Lettie was a featured elder in our 2010 project) who invited us to camp with them for two nights at their family's property right at the junction of the two main forks of the canyon.

On Friday, June 17, 2011, we met the Nave family at the National Monument Visitor's Center and prepared for the 3.5 mile hike down into the Canyon. Lettie and Flemen's daughter, Becky, made sack lunches for us, and Lettie's nephew, Thomas, was our guide.

(Above six photos by Alex Fisher)

Once we got to the Nave camp, we set up our tents and hung around the fire talking and learning.

Many of our group tried making frybread.

For dinner we enjoyed Navajo tacos: ground beef, lettuce, onions, cheese and salsa wrapped in frybread.

After dinner, another short hike led up to a ledge overlooking a box canyon which offered cool photography angles, and a fun echo.

(Above two photos by Alex Fisher)

Molly "Sweet Molly Purebred" Golden

Michael "SPF 1000" Ruka and Alyssa "Giggles" Reimers

Josh "Cover King" Averbeck

Alex "Phish-monger" Fisher

Later, Lettie Nave taught us the Stick Game, including helping us learn how to count in Navajo. Her many years of teaching served her well, as she was very patient with our inability to pronounce all the many consonants and accents well.

(Táá' is the Navajo word for three)

(Ashdla' is the Navajo word for five)

(Michael Ruka won the game, and received a prize.)

(Josh Averbeck shows off the bracelet he won for taking second place in the Stick Game.)

(Michael Ruka models his Ghost Bead necklace; the first prize in the Stick Game. Lettie told us the ghost beads are made of juniper cedar nuts. The necklace wearer is assured of dream-free restful sleep. A few of us bought necklaces from local vendors the next day -- they work.)

Later in the evening, several in our group enjoyed smores around the camp fire, and we all turned in early-- tired after the long hike and high altitude air.

(Albert Haskie-- Miranda and Vernon Haskie's son-- cooks up a smore.)