Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day at Canyon de Chelly

The 2015 Navajo Oral History Project group had a great day today (Saturday, May 30) at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in the central part of the Navajo Nation.

After breakfast at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, the group drove about 35 miles to the national monument in Chinle, Arizona, and visited several of the overlooks that allow great views of the dramatic canyon cut into the clay and sandstone by the Chinle Wash over many centuries. The overlooks also give neat views of some Anasazi ruins in the area, some of which were perched high in caves on the canyon walls.

The first overlook visited is the one that features Spider Rock, an amazing rock formation.

In mid-morning, we met our Navajo guide, Brock, who led us down White House Ruins Trail, into the canyon where we saw some of the best-preserved ruins of the southwest. We then had a nice lunch with Lettie Nave and her family under that shade of cottonwood trees on the banks of the wash, which had quite a bit of water running in it due to uncharacteristic rains over the past two weeks.

Lettie gave a talk on Navajo culture which included information about traditional Navajo foods, wildflowers, dyes and even some information about ceremonies past and present.

Then the group had to hike their way back up White House Ruins trail, about a 650 foot vertical incline along a 1.4 mile trail. We stopped at a few more overlooks and looked at the many beautiful arts and crafts offered by local artisans.

By dinner time, we were set-up in a picnic area near the mouth of the canyon. Lettie's daughters, Becky and Kay, taught the group how to make Navajo fry bread, and then we built huge Navajo tacos onto the fry bread including beans, beef, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, hot green chilis and cheese. Mmmmmmm. Delicious; plus chips, other snacks, watermelon, apples, oranges, bananas, etc.

Lettie taught the stick game to the group and it was played with fun and a sense of competition, with winners receiving prizes. To end the evening, Lettie led the NOHP Group in a series of traditional Navajo dances by singing and playing her drum.

Becky made a nice announcement about how important the Winona State University group is to the Nave family. Our group has camped with the same family for more than five years and have become a part of the family. There were tears when Becky talked about her father, Flemen, who passed away this past spring, but she said she was sure he was there with our group today in his own way. From our group, Tom Grier, Robbie Christiano, Josh Averbeck and Skylar Ogren had all met Flemen over the years and got to know him well. It was hard to be with the family and not have him present to tend the fire and make his famous blue corn pancakes.

Lettie Nave led the group in a circle dance, singing and playing her drum.

Hugs and more tears followed as our group said goodbye to the Nave family, and plans are already in the works to visit them again next year with this project.

As you might imagine, the NOHP group is tired, dirty and stinky. The showers in the residence hall at Diné College are in full use tonight, and the pillows will be meeting heavy heads soon.

Many great photos from the day's activities will be posted here soon. (At least the internet is working on campus again.)

Thanks for reading and following this group online. They are working hard, learning a lot, and getting along. Several today agreed that when they first heard about this project they thought it would be neat, fun and interesting, but now they know what it meant when they heard alumni of the program say this project changed their lives in many ways -- and we're only one week into the project.

When these students return home, don't be surprised to find that they are changed. Even though they are great people already, I think you'll find them to be kinder, more patient, more helpful and more understanding of diversity and difficulties that some face in life.