For my spring break this year, I went on an alternative spring break to the four corners region. It was a gorgeous area, and we had a lot of opportunity to hike, camp, and explore, but our main focus was volunteering and working with Native Americans.
The first reservation we visited was Zuni, a pretty small reservation in New Mexico. We were educated by the people on their ways of life, and then we did some weeding on their farms to prepare the fields for planting.
The second reservation we went to was the much larger Navajo reservation, in which we stayed in a family's Hogan (traditional 8-sided Native American building) for three days, working to build a sheep corral for the Nez family. They were the kindest of people, and extended their generosity not just in the form of letting us stay in the Hogan, but inviting us into their home for dinner as well and teaching us about their lifestyle. They also took us on a a trek across a canyon to ancient ruins that are unknown to the public. The ground was littered with untouched artifacts such as arrowheads and broken pottery, and being taken there by the Nezs' was truly a wonderful experience.
The sad part of this visit, however, was how apparent Native Americans are still struggling to live in coexistence with their tribal past and the rest of the United States. Obviously there was much harm to them by our government in the past, but harms are still being done today, such as one of the major rivers flowing to Zuni being damned. The land in Zuni is great for farming, but this lack of water causes them to struggle to continue with a way of life they've known for hundreds of years. It was comforting to see that most of the people on reservations were attending universities, as a result of getting scholarships from the government, but that is one small right to fix many wrongs. Many Native Americans also live on welfare and receive food stamps, which sadly has contributed to a problem of obesity in their culture that was never their before. Being introduced to all our food products without proper nutritional education really has taken a toll on their health; even the father of the Nez family, Jim, was so large he had to use a cane to walk everywhere.
Many believe that wrongs done to Native Americans are a thing of the past, but this is not the case. On the reservations, many of the people still had much resentment towards any white people, in which we were treated with disdain, while others regarded us as normal people. This trip this year was the first of its' kind (at least through CU) I think it would be great if there were more outreach programs of students working in reservations, trading knowledge to hep these people as well as understand their way of life so it is not lost in our country.
To learn more about Zuni and Navajo culture: