Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June 4, 2012 - First Class; Sheep Camp

The 2012 Navajo Oral History class met face to face for the first time on Monday (June 4, 2012) at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation.

The Winona State University students flew to Albuquerque on Sunday afternoon where they were met by WSU Professor Tom Grier.  The group jammed themselves and all their equipment into two rental vehicles and drove the four hours to the Navajo Nation.  We met fellow student Lionel Harvey for dinner in Window Rock and then drove on to the campus in Tsaile. 

We got checked into our dorm rooms and had a meeting with an inspirational Navajo prayer led by our fellow student Shawn Tsosie.  He asked the holy ones to watch over us during our time here within the four sacred mountains of the Navajo Nation.  He prayed for safety, fun, good work and good friendship.  He did the prayer in Navajo, and then explained what it was about.  That can be difficult because many Navajo words and ideas don't translate well into English. 

We discussed our plan for the next few days: class calendar, cafeteria serving hours, equipment responsibilities, etc.  Then everyone crashed into their beds. 

This morning (Monday) we were up by 7 a.m. Laura McCormick got up earlier and went on a pre-sunrise run with Shawn.  In the Navajo tradition, people run to the east in the morning to greet the sunrise and ask the sun and Mother Earth to bless the day and all that will happen within it. 

We had a great breakfast in the Diné College cafeteria, then went to our first class.  

Following class, Professor Miranda Haskie gave us a brief walking tour of campus and discussed the cornstalk sculpture at the center of campus and the significance of the many iconic symbols included there.  

The WSU group visited the Student Union Building, Library and the Bookstore.  

A tasty Chicken Chow Mein or Ham Steak lunch in the cafeteria then required a little relaxation time in the early afternoon.  

Because Prof. Grier keeps the schedule so tight (NOH Alumni know this is true), that downtime was very short. 

Later in the afternoon the WSU group all went to the DC Technical Support Center, where laptops were configured to access the DC internet network.  Now the students have no excuse for not staying in touch with family and friends. 

This is H.P., the Rez Dog that hangs around the Diné College Tech Support Center. His name is an abbreviation for Hewlett-Packard, or perhaps Happy Puppy. It depends on who you ask. (photo by Laura McCormick)

In the late afternoon, we were invited by Miranda and Vernon Haskie to travel to their family's sheep camp high in the Chuska Mountains overlooking Lukachukai, Arizona. What a treat.  Vernon brought a sheep so we could have a demonstration on sheep shearing -- and most of our group participated.  

 Vernon Haskie lassos the sheep. (photo by Liam Krause)

 Shannon Bolte shearing sheep. (photo by Liam Krause)

 "Sheep Face" by Liam Krause

Close-up of Laura McCormick sheep shearing. (photo by Kelsey Foss)

Rachel Rivers sheep shearing (photo by Laura McCormick)

The half-sheared sheep. The job was finished after dinner. (photo by Liam Krause)

The Haskie's dog was curious about the sheep shearing and tried sneaking into the corral. (photo by Rachel Rivers)

We hiked through the hills a bit and Vernon explained how the sweat lodge there is used for ceremonial purposes (which can't really be discussed here). 

Shannon Bolte, Emily Gust and Eli Xifra mountain-top hiking. (photo by Kelsey Foss)

Joel Farber in an old, dead tree. (photo by Liam Krause)

Great view from Lukachukai Mountains. (photo by Rachel Rivers)

The view from the Lukachukai Mountains. (photo by Liam Krause)

Vernon fired up the grill and barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs for all of us and several of their family members.  We enjoyed salad, beans, watermelon, and great conversation.

Ben Haskie enjoys watermelon. (photo by Elisenda Xifra Reverter)

It was a great pleasure to meet Vernon's father, Leonard Haskie.  Both Leonard and Vernon are silversmiths that make amazingly beautiful jewelry. 

I always say this and I'm not sure people believe me: My personal experience is that Navajo people are so kind, open and giving.  They share what they have including their lives and their stories with people who are interested enough to sit, listen and learn. 

 "Shed Door" by Kelsey Foss

Shocking News Headline: Romance blooms during the Navajo Oral History project!  Shannon Bolte, a WSU student, met a very nice boy from the Navajo Nation and the Haskie Family named Fred.  They became close very quickly.  We were all a bit surprised to watch them kissing frequently during the afternoon at the sheep camp.  See a photo of Shannon and her new boyfriend at the bottom of this blog entry.

In the evening, we came back to campus and the students tested their journalism equipment to make sure they knew how to run it all Wednesday, our first interview day.

We've been here on the Navajo Nation for just over 24 hours... and I can already sense a change among the Winona State Students.  They're fun, intelligent, mature students that are suddenly more aware of their surroundings, of people's feelings, and of their place in this project and in the world at large. 

If you watch and read this blog daily, I think you'll witness the changes too.

For future reference: I've asked students to submit their photos of our activities so I can include some of them on this blog.  If a photo on the blog has no photographer's credit, it means I, Prof. Tom Grier, made the image.  Whenever I publish a photo or words submitted by someone other than myself, I'll include by-line credit.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Oh... here's the "Shocking Headline News" Photo:

Shannon Bolte and her new boyfriend, Fred. (photo by Kelsey Foss)


  1. Wish I was there and a part of the class. But I will settle for the blog...great photos and commentary!

  2. Someone needs to give Fred some pets for me!

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  4. Great photos and experiences, in land of the bigfoot! FYI, at the overlook area, my team has found and encountered some evidence of bigfoot activity.

  5. I hope these future journalists will adhere to the guidelines of ethics and truth, refraining from lashing and hate editorials that so many in liberal media have turned to that originate from the school of Twitter.