Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Navajo Oral History 2012 films available

The 2012 Navajo Oral History project is complete.  The students of Diné College and Winona State University that created the documentary films on the lives of Navajo elders, premiered their projects at receptions in mid-September on both campuses.

The students, working in collaborative teams during June 2012, provided service work for the elders, then researched, wrote, filmed, edited and produced documentary films about four Navajo Code Talkers, and one long-time employee at Diné College.

Those featured included Chester Nez, of Chichiltah, New Mexico, the last surviving member of The Original 29 Navajo Code Talkers.  Chester was part of the first group of young Navajo men who were recruited into the US Marine Corps in 1942 to create a code, based on the Navajo language, for use in the Pacific Theater of World War II.  Those Original 29 Code Talkers then took their code into battle.  The code was never broken and surely helped shorten the war, save lives, and secure victory for the United States.

Other code talkers featured in the student documentary films are: Kee Etsicitty of Chichiltah, New Mexico; Samuel Tom Holiday of Kayenta, Arizona; and Joe Vandever Sr. of Haystack, New Mexico.

The Diné College employee featured is Agatha Spencer of Chinle, Arizona.  Spencer was a new employee at Navajo Community College in 1968 as the first Tribal College in the U.S. was created. She has served as an admissions counselor and program coordinator for the school -- now known as Diné College -- since then.

The journalism project is part of a multi-year collaboration between Winona State University (Winona, Minnesota) and Diné College (Tsaile, Arizona).  Through the Navajo Oral History project, students get real-world, in-the-field experience using and refining their journalism skills.  They also learn across cultures, and help to document and save for historic purposes the life stories of Navajo elders.  The project is directed by Dr. Miranda Haskie, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Diné College, and Dr. Tom Grier, professor of mass communication at Winona State University.

The finished documentaries were published to DVDs, copies of which were given to the families of the featured elders, and which are archived at the libraries of the two colleges and at the Navajo Nation Museum and Navajo Nation Library.  The documentaries are also archived at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

Copies of the DVD are available for purchase, with all funds from sales going to a scholarship fund at Diné College.  Information about purchasing the DVDs is available from Tom Grier; email:

To aid in the dissemination of the interesting and important stories of the elders, the videos have been made available for viewing via YouTube. Those interested can visit the YouTube web site and enter Navajo Oral History or the name of one of the elders into the search box and follow the link to the videos.

Planning and recruiting of students for the fifth year (summer 2013) of the Navajo Oral History project is already underway.  Interested students should contact Prof. Haskie ( or Prof. Grier (

Links to the YouTube Videos:

Chester Nez Living History Film:

Kee Etsicitty Living History Film:

Samuel Tom Holiday Living History Film:

Agatha Spencer Living History Film:

Joe Vandever Sr. Living History Film:

These Living History films are 15-20 minutes long. The shorter (3-5 minutes) Media Feature versions of the films are also posted on YouTube.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 Navajo Oral History films premiere!

This event is at Diné College's Tsaile, Arizona, Campus in the Student Union Building's activity room.

Friday, September 7, 2012

2012 Navajo Oral History films premiere

The Winona State University Mass Communication department has been in a long-term partnership with Diné College, the tribal college of the Navajo Nation. That partnership has resulted in tremendous opportunity for both Winona State and Diné College students to practice and hone multimedia journalism skills through an annual summer fieldwork class on the Navajo Nation.

The fruits of the students' hard work will be premiered and celebrated next week here on campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Thursday, Sept. 13
5 p.m.:  reception with refreshments - Somsen Hall Main Lobby
5:30 p.m.: program with films and short speeches - Somsen Auditorium
Five films (about 20 minutes each) will be shown, featuring:
- Chester Nez, the last of The Original 29 Navajo Code Talkers from World War II
- Kee Etsicitty, a Navajo Code Talker during World War II
- Agatha Spencer, a long-time admissions counselor at Diné College
- Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo Code Talker during World War II
- Joe Vandever Sr, a Navajo Code Talker during World War II

Following this reception, the WSU students involved will travel to the Navajo Nation to host a reception-premiere at Diné College. 

The documentary films will be archived and available for viewing at the WSU Library, the Diné College Library, the Navajo Nation Museum, the Navajo Nation Library, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

A special "Thank You" to the WSU Mass Communication Department and the WSU Foundation for continued support of this important project.

-- Dr. Tom Grier, WSU Professor of Mass Communication