Palmerton college student learns about land, Navajo Nation
The beauty. The peace. The appreciation.
Lebanon Valley College student and Pleasant Valley High School graduate Kassidy McKeever recently spent a week at a Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona where she learned much about the natural environment. Along with 12 other LVC students, McKeever participated in a service-learning program offered by the school.
Living inside Navajo Nation
“We began the week by cleaning and trimming grape vines at a Navajo farm located in Tuba City which is outside Flagstaff,” she said. “In January, Arizona is not hot like in the summer. The temperature was in the 40s and 50s.”
“We also chopped wood. It was tiring work, but we gained an appreciation of the land on the reservation.”
The tasks on the farm were not entirely scripted ahead by schedule. The students were put to work when the water supply to the farm had been cut off.
“We dug a trench on a mountain to free up clogged spring water that supplies the farm and the local area,” said McKeever. “It was a satisfying feeling when the water was restored.”
The students were provided an orientation about life of the 60,000 natives of the Navajo Nation which extends from Arizona into Utah and New Mexico. “We had a presentation where we learned about Navajo dance, songs, and language,” said McKeever, who lives in Palmerton with her parents and three siblings. “Then we visited a museum where we discovered that during World War II, the Navajo developed a code for military communication.”
Called Code Talkers, the military was able to communicate with other countries without having the enemy hack into our country’s strategic planning.
McKeever was asked if she sensed any resentment that the Navajo were directed to live on government supported reservations.
“There was some of that,” she said, “but the majority of the people are happy to help out the country in any way they can.”
Meeting the Hopi tribe
On another afternoon, the students visited a marketplace operated by the Hopi tribe who live within the center of the Navajo reservation.
There they we able to buy handmade jewelry made by the Hopi. Another excursion was a sightseeing experience to Newspaper Rock where they examined Navajo markings that had been carved into the stone.
“We also participated in a Navajo song and dance accompanied by a chant and drumbeat,” she said. “We really learned a lot about their way of life.”
A hike to the Little Colorado Gorge and the Grand Canyon was when the students were able to become one with Mother Earth.
“We sat in silence and just absorbed the calm and the beauty before us,” she said.
“The Navajo encouraged us to appreciate the time we have left on earth.”
The college program
Jen Liedtka, coordinator of service volunteerism at Lebanon Valley College, explained the program in detail.
“The students can choose from a variety of service opportunities depending upon their curiosity. For the trip to the Navajo Nation, there was an application process and three meetings that helped them prepare. Once they returned, they are now expected to write several responses to prompted questions and write a reflection essay.
“They will also be required to make a campus presentation based upon their experiences,” she said.
“Another benefit of our program is that students get to know each other on a different level because they are placed together out of their comfort zones.”
A lifelong lesson
Asked why she chose the Navajo Nation opportunity, McKeever said, “I like to fix things and learn about different cultures.”
She’s majoring in exercise science with a goal to get a doctorate in physical therapy. But what she came away with from her week with the Navajos will impact her life style going forward.
“I have a much better appreciation of nature now than before,” she said. “I will make an effort to look around and really enjoy the peace and calm its beautiful silence has to offer.”