Third-years Kieran Minor and Rashad Saleh have received $10,000 from the Davis Projects for Peace to create a collaborative arts education program for Navajo youth in Chinle, Arizona.
Located in the heart of the Navajo Reservation, the town of Chinle is situated in the sprawling, 33-mile sandstone Canyon de Chelly National Monument, an important place in Navajo culture and history. Because of its remote location, there are few activities outside of school, especially during summer.
Hózhó, a common Navajo phrase, can be interpreted as a lifestyle, to find “peace, balance, beauty, and faith” in the world around you. Minor and Saleh have proposed Project Hózhó as a summer arts program that teaches storytelling through the arts to youth in grades 9-12. The course seeks to emphasize students’ creativity, empowering students to engage complex environmental, cultural, and political issues through the arts.
Minor, a musician and songwriter majoring in economics and environmental studies, and Saleh, a politics and cinema studies major, will lead students in daily film and songwriting classes over an intensive five-week period.
“Alternating between indoor and outdoor spaces, the course will challenge students to perceive the landscape through new eyes while forcing them to reflect on their own relationship with the natural environment,” their project proposal states. “Within this conceptual framework, students will develop practical film production and writing skills. Above all, however, Project Hózhó will allow students to develop a political voice through creative means.”
Projects for Peace was created in 2007 through the generosity of Kathryn W. Davis, a lifelong internationalist and philanthropist who died in 2013 at the age of 106. The award is open to undergraduates in participating partner institutions and encourages student initiative, innovation, and entrepreneurship focusing on conflict prevention, resolution, or reconciliation.
Minor has been working with the indigenous community in Chinle since 2014, when he received a generous fellowship to volunteer in Chinle immediately after his high school graduation.
“While I was there, I lived with a local family, helped wrangle the family’s 30-some-odd head of cattle, volunteered for the National Park Service at the nearby Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and taught after-school photography and songwriting at the local junior high school,” says Minor, who is from Danbury, Connecticut. “I was welcomed into a community with one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever encountered. I appreciated my time in Chinle because I not only got to know organizations, but also people, the landscape, and how people interacted with it.”
He got the idea for a summer intensive from friends on the reservation who expressed a need for more youth activities.
Minor and Saleh became friends in their first-year seminar, “Rebellion on the Nile,” taught by Associate Professor of Middle-Eastern History Zeinab Abul-Magd. The class studies the history of the Nile River through social movements, from Islamic conquest to present-day. The two spent the following winter term in Egypt with the class, where they visited Cairo and other famous cities on the Nile. For their final class project, they collaborated on a experimental short film that discussed Egypt’s water politics with three talking camels.
“We both had an interest in politics, specifically environmental politics and history, as well as an interest in the arts,” Minor says. “We saw the Davis grant as opportunity to apply this kind of collaboration in a meaningful way, and as a way to inspire youth to engage with the most pressing environmental issues.”
For Saleh, who is from Woodbridge, Connecticut, the project will be his first immersion in the Navajo community and his first time experiencing the Southwest landscape. He says his hope is to expose students to basic filmmaking in a collaborative, low-key, and fun environment.
They intend to make the summer intensive an enduring program by soliciting the support of the National Park Service, the Chinle Unified School District, and the Indian Health Service. They also plan to enlist the help of local college students at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, to lead the program in future years.
“There are so many programs out in the world that are here today, gone tomorrow,” Minor says. “Because we are crafting something from an idea that originated from within the community, we hope to be facilitators, rather than initiators, of a larger community sentiment that values the arts, activism, and the voices of youth. Our duty is to use the resources available to us to get the wheel moving rather than to reinvent it.”