Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Travel Classes: Editing, Narrating, etc.

The travel portion of the 2012 Navajo Oral History project is is done for the summer.  The student journalism teams made up of students from Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, and Winona State University of Winona, Minnesota, spent 2.5 weeks on the Navajo Nation interviewing Navajo elders, and learning something of the culture and history of the reservation.  Last week, the WSU students returned to Minnesota with hours of digital video and audio and thousands of digital photographs.

Now the real work begins, as the teams meet via Interactive Television, email, Facebook and other electronic means to help each other sift through all the material with the ultimate goal of building a factual, interesting and historically significant documentary film about their Navajo elder.

This is hard work.  The groups have spent dozens of hours transcribing all the text of their interviews.  Now, they are going over those transcripts repeatedly to find the best quotes to include in their films.

The groups are meeting via ITV this week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

By Friday, each group will have a close to final draft version of their film.  Next week, they'll meet with the faculty members of the class to make final edits and clean up little odds and ends in the editing process.

By the end of July, the DVDs will be finalized and copies ordered, so they can be here in time for the reception and premier events that will happen in September.

If you are a family member or friend of any of the students involved in this project, please make it a point to come to the receptions and see the films.  These are important events to celebrate the hard work, but also to congratulate the students for making lasting, meaningful documentary films.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 18 - Hagonee'

Navajos generally don't like to say goodbye.  It seems too final or perhaps sad.  In keeping with the Navajo concept of balance and fresh starts each day, they say "Hagonee'" which is the traditional way of saying something like "until we meet again."

Today (Thursday, June 21), the 2012 Navajo Oral History project students from Winona State University packed up all their gear and drove from Tsaile, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation to the Albuquerque airport to prepare for their flights home. 

Before we left the Diné College campus, the WSU students gathered in front of the Ned Hatathli Center (the main administration building at DC) for a group photo that says "Hagonee'" to the place that has been home for nearly three weeks. (Photo by James McKenzie)

There were hugs with Diné College students James McKenzie and Shawn Tsosie who showed up early to see the WSU Group off.

On the way to the airport, the group stopped by the Chester and Mike Nez home in Albuquerque to visit with Chester, who is the last of the Original 29 Navajo Code Talkers.  The group that has worked for the past few weeks on a documentary about Chester's  life and service wanted a chance to visit him one more time and to say "Hagonee'" to Chester and his family.  They plan to see him again in early October for the reception and premiere of his film, and the films of the other Navajo elders studied this summer.


The WSU group was then taken to the airport where one rental van was returned and all their gear was transferred to the one large van returning to Minnesota. The students were dropped at the airport terminal to meet their planes. Prof. Tom Grier and Teaching Assistant Robbie Christiano began the long drive home. 

The whole group-- both WSU and Diné College students-- will meet again via ITV on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week to look at drafts and to finalize their documentary films. 

The professional way in which these student journalists worked with each other in small groups over the past several weeks virtually ensures the documentaries will be well-done and will tell the life stories of some amazing Navajo elders. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 17: Last Class, Editing, Just Move It

Today (Wednesday, June 20) was the last class day of the fieldwork portion of the 2012 Navajo Oral History project.

The day started with breakfast in the Diné College cafeteria. 

The class met in the morning and each student journalism group showed samples of their interviews with Navajo elders recorded over the past 2.5 weeks.  Class members offered constructive criticism and helpful suggestions.

Following class most of the journalism teams, made up of Winona State University and Diné College students, met and continued editing and polishing their documentary films on the lives of their elders.

In the early evening, the whole WSU group plus the Haskie family participated in a "Just Move It" event. The Navajo Nation's health promotion program sponsors these events each summer across the reservation.  Local families come out and walk 3.5 miles and get a free t-shirt.  The Navajo Oral History project group was lucky the Just Move It event tonight was scheduled at the Diné College-Tsaile Campus.

The WSU group walked from the dorms about a half mile to the event's starting place, then joined with hundreds of local people for a set of warm-up exercises and the 3.5 mile hike, followed by the half-mile walk back to the campus dorms.

In the evening, everyone was trying to unwind, pack up their clothes and journalism gear, and get ready to return home tomorrow (Thursday, June 21).

There were lots of hugs between the Winona State and Diné College students as they bid farewell.  The students will see each other via Interactive Television next week when the class meets several times to view drafts.

In the fall, the students will get together again to celebrate and premiere their documentary films.  Receptions will be held at both Winona State University and Diné College, dates to be announced soon.

Friends and loved ones of these students can be proud.  It might be a stretch to say the groups operated in total harmony for the entire 2.5 weeks of field work.  Even if there were disagreements or equipment malfunctions, the student journalists handled themselves professionally and found ways to be flexible and resourceful so they could complete their important work.

Before this journey started, the WSU students learned of the Navajo concept of Hozho: The Diné concept of balance and harmony.  They were reminded to start each day fresh and new, in balance with nature, their classmates and themselves.  They were asked to leave differences and difficulties behind them each night in their sleep, and begin each day as an opportunity to live, laugh, love and work in harmony with each other.  The group has done remarkably well with this concept.

Another Diné concept learned was that of Nizhoni: Beauty.  Everything and everyone is beautiful in their own way.  It makes everyone's lives easier and happier if each person looks for the beauty in everything first.  It's hard to maintain an ugly thought or a bad mood when you are specifically trying to find beauty in everything and everyone.

This may sound new-agey or preachy... In reality, these concepts are a part of life for most Diné people.  One of the main goals of the Navajo Oral History project -- in addition to creating excellent documentaries -- is to gain insight and understanding of a unique culture.  The Winona State students learned much from their Diné College partners.  At the same time, the Diné students learned by being closely involved with the Winona State students.

On Thursday morning, the vans will be packed with people, luggage and journalism gear as the WSU group heads to the Albuquerque airport, where the students will catch their flights and make their way back home.  They'll have the weekend to re-connect with family and friends before reconvening as a class again Monday morning.

To parents, relatives and friends of the students: THANK YOU for sharing these amazing student journalists with the program for the past several weeks.  They've worked hard and had fun.  Most importantly, they developed as human beings.  Need evidence?  Ask them what it means to be Navajo in the year 2012.  Then just listen.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 16: More Interviews

Tuesday (June 19) was another eventful day during the 2012 Navajo Oral History Project at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

Several of the student journalism teams stayed in the Diné College dorms and worked on their documentary videos featuring the life stories of Navajo elders.

One team and a few extra helpers went out to Haystack, New Mexico, to interview World War II Navajo Code Talker Joe Vandever for a second time.  Joe was in good spirits as he met with the students in his hogan, offering jokes, telling stories, and giving advice to the journalists and their future readers or viewers.

After the interview, the student journalism team shot b-roll video of the Haystack Mountain that is in Joe Vandever's backyard, and Mount Taylor, one of the four sacred mountains in Navajo tradition, that is very close to his home.

Haystack Mountain

Mount Taylor

Later in the afternoon, the group had a chance to meet with hollywood film star Roger Willie, a Navajo from Thoreau, New Mexico, and a star in the 2002 Windtalkers film about Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.

Roger Willie was kind, humble and helpful as he described his role in the movie and the importance of telling the code talker's stories to a larger audience.

Back in the Diné College dorms for the evening, all groups were working on their projects.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, June 20, 2012) is the Winona State University students' last full day on the Navajo Nation.  There will be a class session in the morning to look at draft material of the work-in-progress films and to plan for the next steps.

Next week the Winona State University students will be home in Minnesota and will meet with Diné College students on Monday, Wednesday and Friday via ITV sessions to view drafts and finish the films.

Premiere events for the student films are being planned for fall 2012, most likely the last week of September or the first week of October. When those dates are set, they will be publicized here on the blog and elsewhere.  Those events are open to the public and will include refreshments, a showing of each of the films, and short speeches by the filmmakers.