Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 4 - Interviews and Dancing

Thursday (June 9, 2011) was another busy day on the Navajo Nation for the members of the 2011 Navajo Oral History project.

Two vehicles filled with the participating students from Diné College (Tsaile, Arizona) and Winona State University (Winona, Minnesota) drove to the community known as Navajo, about 50 miles from campus to meet with Jack Jackson, Sr., one of the featured elders in this year's project.

Jack was an Arizona State Senator for nearly 20 years, and was a leader and educator in the Diné Education program at Dine College for many years before retiring in spring 2011. Jack played an important role in the founding and early days of Diné College in the late 1960s. He was an accomplished rodeo man, first as a competitor and then with his brother as a rodeo event organizer.

The students completed a service project for Jack, which included moving and stacking railroad ties, and cleaning the Jackson family's ceremonial hogan, which is where the interview was conducted.

(Robbie Christiano and Josh Averbeck moving a railroad tie)

(Dave Dvorak and Josh Averbeck cleaned the hogan and watered down the dirt floor while Trevor Foster started the fire -- with one match.)

(Tashina Johnson)

(Dave Dvorak swept the hogan entrance.)

(Robbie Christiano watered down the dirt floor of the hogan)

(Jessica King and Molly Golden)

During the interview, Jack explained some details about the Navajo creation story and the importance of the cornstalk in Navajo culture. He shared a wealth of knowledge about the founding of Diné College and the vision for the institution as a way to serve the Navajo people, while helping maintain traditional Navajo ways.

The student group interviewed Jack's wife, Eloise, to find out more about how the couple met, their relationship and their children.

After enjoying a picnic lunch at the Jackson home, some of the students returned to the Diné College campus to work on their projects.

(A friendly visit with Jack's horse "Blackie.")

The team working on Mitzie Begay's life story stopped in the Wheatfields area to interview Beulah Allen, a medical doctor, co-worker and close friend of Mitzie's.

(Beulah Allen, left, and Prof. Miranda Haskie, who earned the title of "Grip" when she was pressed into service and held a light reflector during the video shoot.)

In the evening, we drove to Chinle, Arizona, where we had dinner at Church's Chicken. It's kind of tradition for this program to eat at least one meal at Church's. Some students think one meal at Church's is one too many. Personally, I like it.

After dinner, we went to the Chinle Senior Center where KTNN Radio -- the voice of the Navajo Nation -- was hosting a Drums of Summer event. This is a social gathering where local music groups play traditional Navajo songs and everyone participates in round dancing.

The Minnesota college students made an impression. Michael Ruka and Alyssa Reimers were the first of our group to step out and join the circle dance. They got a round of applause from the large number of people in attendance.

(Alyssa Reimers and Michael Ruka)

Soon, Navajo ladies felt comfortable coming to our group and inviting the men to dance. It's Navajo tradition for the men to pay the women $1 for a dance. The men in our group were quite popular, and Robbie Christiano had to borrow some $1 bills so he could be polite and continue paying all the women who asked him to dance.

(Robbie Christiano -- Alex Fisher and Dave Dvorak)

Josh Averbeck, who stands over six feet tall was asked to dance several times, and had some excellent rhythm and moves.

(Josh Averbeck)

Michael Ruka and Dave Dvorak also got into the circle dance several times. The women in our group also danced.

(Dave Dvorak and Robbie Christiano)

(Molly Golden and Jessica King)

(Michael Ruka)

(Alex Fisher and Lionel Harvey)

(Josh Averbeck and Dave Dvorak)

(Above two photos by Dave Dvorak)

Everyone had fun, and enjoyed an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, your blog editor also danced several tunes and paid his dance partners. (Surely the students have photos of this that may appear here in the next day or so.)

The group seems tired tonight, so the blog is filled with my photos for now. In the next day or two, I'll get more images from the students added to this blog article.

Michael Ruka summed it up: "We had a Grier-scheduled day today." This is his way of saying I try to pack activities and experiences into every possible minute.

He's right.

(Alex Fisher)

In 12 days or so, these students will return home exhausted, but proud of their hard work and wiser and more worldly for having these experiences.


  1. You guys got to go dancing!? looks like it was a lot of fun! I love following this blog, makes me feel like I am right there with you guys :)

    -Jenn W.

  2. Thanks, Jenn. Especially because you were here last year... you have inside knowledge about what we're doing and probably recognize most of the places we're going. It's kind of too bad that there were no Drums of Summer events last year during the time our WSU group was here.