Protecting the Navajo Ways Through Media

Alex Gogan, Staff Writer

A mass communication professor from Winona State University spoke last wednesday about the dying culture of the Navajo tribe.

The Navajo Oral History Project on Wednesday began with a small reception in Riley 201. Dr. Tom Grier, a Mass Communication professor from Winona State University, led the discussion. Dr. Grier explained that when he became a professor he did not want to be “a boring teacher”, and wanted to take the ‘experiential learning’ method to heart. He felt the Navajo tribe was something worth preserving and researching. The idea began with documenting the Navajo Nation and allowing students to research for three weeks over the summer.

In 2005 the idea began and was researched. In 2006 and 2007 partnerships and approvals from the National Navajo Historic Preservation Dept. and the Human Research Board were acquired. In 2009 the first year of fieldwork began. Since then there have been six years of these projects; producing almost 27 films. Winona State University collaborated with Diné College and allowed their students to film, edit, and produce their projects for the public.

The goals of the Navajo Oral history Project are to expose students to a different culture, develop skills and abilities, inform and educate the public and to have fun. While students are away they learn how to be leaders, how to use Adobe Premier, and how to advocate for themselves. Out of the 102 students who have attended, 64 were from Winona and 38 were from Diné College. Almost 92 percent of Diné college students are Navajo, so some of the footage would be about a relative or two.  

The importance of these projects is to record the stories of the Navajo. Dr. Grier comments: “these stories need to be recorded”. We must hear what elders have to say, for sooner than we think; it will be too late. One of the elders interviews in 2012, Joe Vandever, was a Navajo Code talker. He is concerned that their language is dying, and soon the language that aided the U.S. in WWII will be gone. “It’s powerful. Our language is powerful” he says. Dr. Grier and the students that go to Navajo Nation work to preserve the Navajo ways. Being humble and allowing the elders and the community tell you what to do is what will get the job done. As Dr. Tom Grier says: “I’m just here to help, you direct me”.