Students explore Hopi/Diné culture in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah

While most of the students who traveled on May Term study abroad trips went overseas, some were able to experience cultural immersion a little closer to home.

Traveling to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, students on the Exploring Hopi/Diné (Navajo) Nations May Term trip experienced firsthand the cultures’ “arts and crafts, sacred ceremonies, lifestyle and some of the challenges they face,” said Marsha Morton, trip leader and adjunct professor of nursing.

Morton started the May Term Study Experience in 1985 and led this year’s trip with Cordelia Schaffer, associate professor of nursing, and Marilee Coles-Ritchie, associate professor of education.

“I’ve been on this trip five times,” Schaffer said. “Each time I’ve learned new things.  My perspective of the Native American Peoples has grown and shifted in this time span.”

Students on the trip spent time in the homes of the Hopi people and watched demonstrations of time-honored Hopi skills, such as weaving baskets, throwing pottery, making flutes, and cooking traditional meals.

The trip also led students to ancestral Pueblo dwelling places and sites sacred to the Navajo people, such as Grand Canyon National Park, Goosenecks of the San Juan, Monument Valley Tribal Park and sites along the San Juan River, according to the course description.

Sophomore nursing major Isabel Giarratana journaled about her experience hiking through Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle, Arizona.

"We hiked through the water and up the entire canyon barefoot," she wrote. "It felt really good to be touching my feet to the earth while hiking through such a beautiful place. I always feel very at home when I am hiking, and this was just a nice moment for me to sit back and enjoy the view while getting some exercise."

The trip balanced outdoor activities with practical, hands-on learning. Many of the students on the trip were nursing and education majors, and the group spent two days observing and assisting in clinics for the Utah-Navajo Health Corporation. The students also toured an Indian Health Service Hospital in Chinle where they discussed Navajo culture and healing practices with native healers.

This experience teaches students “how best to care for native people and about the link between traditional healing and modern medicine,” Schaffer said. “This time teaches them how to incorporate culture into their care and meet the needs of native people. Our nursing students become inspired to work in this area and make a real difference for people.”

The trip has had an impact; Schaffer said that over the past few years, four Westminster students have gone to work at the Navajo-run hospital in Tuba City after graduation.