Sunday, September 29, 2013

Diné College Guests in Winona

Several guests from the Navajo Nation came to Winona, Minn., in mid-September for the 2013 Navajo Oral History project premiere at Winona State University. At the event, the students who participated in the summer documentary journalism class showed the completed versions of their films focused on Navajo elders. 

Dr. Miranda Haskie, a professor of Social and Behavioral Science from Diné College, and her husband, Vernon, led the group that came to Winona for the reception and premiere. 

The guests arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on Wednesday, Sept, 11. WSU graduate student Robbie Christiano picked them up at the airport and took them to spend a few hours at the Mall of America before they drove south two hours to Winona. 

On Thursday morning, the students and faculty from the Navajo Nation were guests in Dr. Cindy Killion's Mass Communication Issues and Ethics course at WSU where they discussed media portrayal of American Indians and coverage of news and issues of importance to American Indians.

Later, the Diné College guests and WSU members of the Navajo Oral History Project served as the panel of experts for a news conference in Dr. Tom Grier's News Writing course. The panel discussed the Navajo Oral History Project and the films that were created, which were to be premiered the following evening on campus. 

The Guests from the Navajo Nation enjoyed lunch in The Smaug in WSU's Student Union building then stopped at the WSU Bookstore for some souvenir shopping.

In the late afternoon and evening, the Navajo visitors and lots of Navajo Oral History project students from this year and previous years, enjoyed a cookout and campfire at the home of Robbie Christiano, as guests of Robbie and his parents: Bob and Karen Christiano. This was a fun and casual time with lots of good food, conversation and laughter.

On Friday, Tom and Julie Grier led the group on a hike up Sugar Loaf, the famous rock formation that towers over the City of Winona, Minnesota.

(above three photos by Julie Grier)

(above photo by Michael Ruka)

The Great Dakota Gathering was happening in Winona that day, so the group stopped there for awhile before taking a quick drive to the Garvin Heights overlook for another lofty view of the "Island City."

(above photo by Michael Ruka)

In the evening, the whole group hosted the 2013 Navajo Oral History Project Premiere and Reception to view the student-produced films and to honor the students for their hard work.

WSU's Science Laboratory Center Auditorium was nearly full, with students, faculty, staff, community members, and friends and family of the student filmmakers in attendance. Also attending were several alumni of the program, who came to mark the fifth-year milestone of the project.

(above five photos by Julie Grier)

The films were, of course, excellent, and the students spoke from the heart about the process of meeting the Navajo elders, breaking down cultural barriers, and researching, recording, editing and producing the films that told the life stories of the elders. 

On Saturday morning, the Diné College group returned to the MSP Airport and back home to Arizona. The next day, the WSU group flew to the west to do it all over again, hosting a second premiere and reception event at Diné College on Monday evening. 

(Photos, unless otherwise noted, by Tom Grier.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

2013 Navajo Oral History Project Premiere at Diné College

The life stories of five Navajo elders were featured in documentary films premiered on Monday, Sept. 16, at Diné College, the Tribal College of the Navajo Nation.

The films, part of the 2013 Navajo Oral History Project, were researched, recorded, photographed, edited and produced by students of Winona State University, Winona, Minn., and Diné College, Tsaile, Ariz.

The students and faculty of the program gathered with the five featured elders and their families for a traditional Navajo mutton and fry bread meal and then watched the student-produced films. Following each film, the student filmmakers and the featured elder gave short speeches about the project and the process of working together to record the elder's stories.

The elders featured are:
- Jake Livingston, a Navajo-Zuni Silversmith from Sanders, Arizona;
- Peter MacDonald, former Navajo tribal chairman and World War II Navajo Code Talker from Tuba City, Arizona;
- Nita Nez, a traditional Navajo rug weaver from Rock Point, Arizona;
- Della Toadlena, a retired Diné College English professor from Chinle, Arizona; and
- Baje Whitethorne Sr., a celebrated Navajo artist and sculptor from Flagstaff, Arizona.

Below are a selection of photos from the Diné College premiere event.

The 2013 Navajo Oral History project was the fifth year of the successful collaboration between Winona State University's Mass Communication Department, and Diné College's Social and Behavioral Sciences Department.

The finished documentaries are archived at the Navajo Nation Museum, The Navajo Nation Library, the libraries of both participating higher education institutions, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.

Since it began, the program has developed documentary films about 23 Navajo elders. More than 80 students from the two learning institutions have been involved.

The project is directed by Dr. Tom Grier, professor of Mass Communication at Winona State University; Dr. Miranda Haskie, professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Diné College, and Mr. Robbie Christiano, WSU Mass Communication alumnus and current WSU graduate student.

For more information on the project, contact Dr. Tom Grier via email (

The Winona State University group got together for a photo just before the premiere reception began.

Pictured (left to right) are: Tom Grier, Adam Maciejczak, Elise Nelson, Robbie Christiano, Darin Strohmenger, Jolene Kuisle and Skylar Ogren. (photo by Julie Grier)

The Toadlena Family.
Pictured (left to right) are: Brent, Leanne, Della, and Leo.

Jake and Jay Livingston.

DC Student Lorencita Willie poses with WSU Students Darin Strohmenger and Adam Maciejczak.

Dr. Miranda Haskie welcomes guests to the premiere and invites them to enjoy a traditional Navajo mutton and fry bread meal.

Trina Thomas, DC student participant in the 2013 NOH project, with her nephew.

Diné College's Vice President Ron Belloli visits with Prof. Miranda Haskie.

Professor Haskie starts the program.

Diné College Vice President Ron Belloli gave a brief speech about the value of learning opportunities like the Navajo Oral History Project.

Abraham Bitok, Diné College's Academic Dean spoke of his support for this program. 

Jay and Jake Livingston enjoy watching the film about Jake's Life.

Following the film, Jake speaks while the students listen.
Pictured (left to right): Darin Strohmenger, Adam Maciejczak, Lorencita Willie, Jake Livingston.

Peter MacDonald (foreground) and his wife, Wanda, enjoy the film.

DC Student Debb Teller (left) and WSU Student Jolene Kuisle (right) listen while Peter MacDonald speaks.

Nita Nez and her family watch the film about her life as a rug weaver.

WSU Student Skylar Ogren (left), and DC Student Lyndzey Barney listen while Nita Nez discusses the making of the film which included translation help from Nita's daughter, DC Alumna Revaline Nez (right).

Della Toadlena and her family laugh during a light moment in the film about Della's life.

WSU Student Elise Nelson (left) and DC Student Lionel Harvey (right) listen to Della.

Baje Whitethorne Sr., watches the student-produced film about his life and his art.

Baje Whitethorne Sr., (left) talks, while DC Student Trina Thomas listens. 

Robbie Christiano, the graduate student assistant to the NOH project wraps up the evening with a heartfelt talk about the importance of the films and the learning opportunity for students.

The elders and students got together for a group photo.

Pictured (left to right): Jake Livingston, Nita Nez, Peter MacDonald Della Toadlena and Baje Whitethorne Sr.

Some of the group looked over silver jewlery made by Jay and Jake Livingston.

Julie Grier (left) and Tom Grier (right) pose with Jake Livingston and the new silver ring on Julie's finger, just purchased from Jake.