Explore Class 2 Visits Navajo Nation
The Explore final journey takes the class from Flagstaff to Hard Rock, to Monument Valley and back down through Cameron Trading Post; 776 miles and over 13 hours of driving to visit just a few of the many assets that Navajo Nation has to offer.
On day one, we started the trip with Thomas Walker, a former council member who shared tribal history and gave the group insight into the tribal government and the interplay with state and federal government. We then learned about the unique approach of the STAR School from one of the founders, Dr. Mark Sorensen. The school is a dynamic, award-winning Pre-K through 8th Grade Public Charter School primarily serving Native American students.
The class then visited Leupp Family Farms, where Tyrone Thompson gave us a tour of his homestead garden and talked about his motivation for investing in the land to grow traditional crops, addressing some of the challenges with access to healthy food in the area. We ended our day at Twin Arrows Casino where we checked into our rooms and then had a tour of the beautiful building. We were shown many of the elements that were incorporated into the design that told traditional stories and represent cultural traditions. We learned that we were there on Navajo Treaty Day, June 1st, a day signifying the 1868 Treaty that allowed a return to their ancestral homelands (Dinétah) and is an important symbol of Navajo (Diné) sovereignty and what it means to live as Navajo (Diné) people.
On day two, we spent much of our time traveling through the beautiful and vast land of Navajo Nation. We made our way to Hard Rock, where we visited Rocky Ridge Market and learned from delegate Germaine Simonson about the importance of the market, and the challenges with access to food and resources in the rural area. The journey to and from the market exemplified the remoteness of the Nation, and the reality of a disconnected community with a strong central cultural thread. Germaine’s transparency around the needs and her own hopes was eye opening and welcome.
When we finished our time at the market, we traveled to Monument Valley where we talked with Samantha Holiday about the work her and her team are doing at the Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center, which grew out of the COVID relief fund and now provides services and classroom spaces to the community in Monument Valley. We ended our day with a jeep tour of Monument Valley, exploring the beauty of the land and digging deeper into the rich culture of the Navajo people.
Our final day began with a presentation by Deenise Becenti from NTUA, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, who shared the challenges with access to power in the Nation, and programs that have been developed like Light Up Navajo, to help connect residents to power for the first time. Next we heard from Fern Benally, County Supervisor, who talked about the history of the Black Mesa Mine, the damage to the land, and the efforts to reclaim and rehab the area since the mine’s closure in 2005. Finally, we traveled to Cameron Trading Post where we had lunch and learned from Marsha Greyeyes about Change Labs, an award-winning Native-led organization on the Navajo and Hopi Nations growing the next generation of Native American change makers.
We ended our day in the garden space in Cameron, where we reflected briefly on the high impact experiences in Navajo Nation. There were eye opening moments that hit each of us uniquely, bringing up our connection to our own culture and place, and prompting a deep appreciation for the things that we may take for granted. Furthermore, every leader we met in Navajo Nation exhibited an openness and vulnerability when sharing their story which was humbling and inspiring. The experience exponentially grew our appreciation for this part of our state, giving us a new understanding of what it means to be an Arizonan.
Special thanks to all of our community partners who made the trip such an incredible experience.
|Owner of Rocky Ridge Market | Council Delegate
|NTUA: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority
|Black Mesa Review Board | County Supervisor
|The STAR School Founder & Board Chair
|Ginger Sykes Torres
|VL Board Member
|Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center
|Change Labs, Finance Director
|Twin Arrows Casino
|Economic Development | Tribe Awaken