When I went to the CVA training in Las Vegas, all of us were encouraged to promote the National Park Service and volunteering to underrepresented populations in the United States. We were challenged with the task of expanding NPS to better reflect the diversity of our country. Knowing this, I wanted the bulk of my internship to involve the local Navajo community, in specific Native youth. Since Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in the middle of an American Indian reservation, the underserved population I want to target is already surrounding the park. Moreover, I was fortunate that when I first arrived at the park, I was entering a division that was focused on reaching out to our local Navajo community, so it was easy to jump on board with their plans. One of these projects that I have be able to join in on includes working with Navajo Youth.
This year Canyon de Chelly National Monument received a grant though the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to partner with a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school to help bring Native students to the canyon. The focus of the program is Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) where students utilize the canyon as an outdoor classroom. After many weeks of planning a curriculum, this week is the official start! Our partner school is Many Farms High School, located 30 mins drive from the park. This past Tuesday was the students’ first of many field trips into the canyon. I shadowed Ranger Henry as he lead the students down the random assortment of steel, sandstone, and wood stairs that makes up the park’s shortest hiking path, Tunnel Trail. I listened as he shared with them the history and relevance of the canyon for the students as young Navajo individuals. Once we arrived at the designated classroom site (right alongside Petroglyph Rock), I followed the students and teachers around as they collected soil samples from the dry wash, tried in vain to find ground water, and gazed up at 300ft sandstone walls to learn the canyon’s geology. Through it all we were smiling, simply happy to be outdoors on a nice day, rather than stuck inside for school or work.
The next day on Wednesday, the Many Farms High School hiked down the canyon again with additional students who were unable to attend the day before. Without the aid of any rangers this time, I lead my first hike down into the canyon. Was it the easiest, most perfect, everything-went-according-to-plan kind of hike? No, it didn’t quite go as I had imagined it, but it was good experience. I had to learn how to keep the attention of 20 young adults, balance being friendly and stern, and articulate fun facts about the canyon as fluidly as possible. I learned as I went, and even had fun inserting small suggestions about volunteering here and there. Encouraging them to volunteer with Cultural Resources if they were fascinated by rock art or applying for the Native American SCA Summer Crew if they wanted to spend more time in the canyon. Two of the students were actually from this past summer’s SCA crew, and told me they were glad to be back and were for sure re-applying for next summer.
All in All, despite the few hiccups along the way, it was a gratifying hike with Many Farms High School students and teachers. Before they drove away, I stepped inside their school bus to let them know I enjoyed hiking with them, and hoped they all learned something. Last, I thanked them for giving me an excuse to be out in the canyon, rather than in the visitor center reading emails, and handing out brochures (which is a necessity but let’s be real, hiking is so much more fun).