Explore Class 3 Visits Navajo Nation!

June 10, 2024

The final trip of Explore Class 3’s program had us spend three days in Navajo Nation, traveling from Phoenix, to Flagstaff, Tuba City, Monument Valley, Kayenta, Cameron, and finally back home to Phoenix. 

We spent most of our first day at the Star School with founder, Mark Sorensen. We learned about their unique approach to education, centered in Navajo culture and driven by traditional practices along with sustainability and solutions to local challenges. Mark also invited Thomas Walker, a council delegate for Navajo Nation, who was able to provide some history and insight into how the local Navajo government operates.

We ended our time with a trip to a traditional female hogan, where we learned the cultural significance of this structure and how it has been used as a traditional home for Navajo people, and continues to be used today. Our second stop was to Twin Arrows Casino, where we had a tour led by Geri Hongeva, who talked about the art in the Casino and the cultural representation that can be found throughout the building. 

The second day started bright and early as we traveled to Tuba City to join Holly Patterson and Racquel Black with the Change Labs team for their first Pitch Practice event for alumni of their entrepreneurship support program. The Explore class was invited to participate and provide feedback on the pitches, and then the group shared a meal and got to know each other more. This was an incredible way to learn about Change Labs, and the unique nature of business in Navajo Nation as well as what it looks like to be an entrepreneur and how that has always been a part of the culture.

After lunch, we headed up to Monument Valley, where Samantha Holiday toured us around the Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center and the many offerings they provide, including workshops and a library. Our day ended with an incredible jeep tour of Monument Valley and dinner in the center of this beautifully preserved piece of nature. 

For more photos, please visit our Facebook album.

Day three was spent in Kayenta hotel where we had three speakers travel to meet with us and share their work. First, Deenise Becenti from Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) shared the work being done with Light Up Navajo, a program that connects homes across the Nation to electricity for the first time. We learned about the persistent challenges with access to electricity and water, and that there are still thousands of homes that do not have these modern necessities.

Next we learned from Elsie Benally with the Diné Ranchers Association. She talked about the ins and outs of raising and herding cattle across the Nation, and the importance of this industry to Navajo people. Finally, we learned from Fern Benally, District 1 Supervisor, and  member of the Black Mesa Review Board. Fern shared the history of the mine and the current efforts to rehabilitate the land since the mine has closed to make it useful land again for the tribe. 

We ended our trip in Cameron at the Cameron Trading Post. We shared a meal and then had a final reflection in the beautiful garden of the hotel. The group shared their big takeaways from their trip, and Valley Leadership board member, Ginger Sykes-Torres provided additional insight and context with the group to further their understanding of the many assets of the beautiful Navajo Nation land and people. 

Special thanks to all of our community partners who made the trip such an incredible experience.

Holly PattersonChange Labs
Tyrone ThompsonCh’ishie Farms
Racquel BlackChange Labs
Samantha HolidayTsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center
Marsha GreyeyesChange Labs | Finance Director
Fern BenallyBlack Mesa Review Board | County Supervisor
Mark SorensenThe STAR School Founder & Board Chair
Thomas WalkerCouncil Representative
Deenise BecentiNavajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) |
Public Affairs Officer
Ginger Sykes TorresVL Board Member
Elsie BenallyNavajo Nation Human Rights Commission
Geraldine HongevaTwin Arrows Casino
Tony SkrelunasEconomic Development | Tribe Awaken

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