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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 19, 2003 - Issue 85


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Shiprock Students, Elders Team Up

by Jim Snyder - Shiprock Bureau, Farmington, New Mexico Daily Times

SHIPROCK - Shiprock High School was chosen by the Environmental Protection Agency to host an Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement pilot program. Only two other sites in the country were chosen in Montana and Philadelphia.

The program brought Shiprock science students from Rick Espinoza's class and Navajo elders together to teach environmental subjects to Eva B. Stokley Elementary School pupils. The project put the high school students who had to master their subjects in leadership roles because they became teachers to a younger generation.

"It's basically the kind of obstacles teachers go through," said Stephanie Johnson, a high school student.

Espinoza's students chose an array of subjects to research that included water quality and uranium, household and industrial poisons, environmental lifestyles, ditch safety, drinking and driving and use of tobacco.

"We try to hit all the topics that are big concerns out here," Espinoza said. The program "is trying to get seniors, people 55 years and older, and young people working on environmental issues," he added. "The seniors bring their life experiences in."

The project fused together "new-age technology perspectives and story-telling perspectives," said Ryan Downey, a coordinator for the Senior Environment Corps at San Juan College in Farmington. Downey's outreach program worked closely with the high school. "Anytime you get three generations working together it is a tremendous thing," Downey added. "When the seniors (elders) would walk into class, the kids are up shaking hands."

The students and elders used laptop computers to present power point presentations projected onto the walls Tuesday in the small gymnasium at the high school. Four presentations were run simultaneously for approximately 130 pupils. At the end of each presentation, the groups would rotate to the next station.

High School senior Stephanie King's presentation was water quality and uranium.

"I chose it because in my family uranium is a big thing," King said in an interview. "My grandpa worked in the uranium mine." King added she also chose to research uranium problems after reading in the local media that Navajo Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. had proposed it as a potential economic resource for the Navajo Nation.

Dayish had mentioned leach uranium mining, a process that uses water underground to separate uranium from the rocks. He did not advocate the return of traditional uranium mining a point that didn't make a difference to King.

"It's ridiculous," she said. "We lost a lot of our people because of uranium. The thing that got me was the money part. We have sales tax here on the reservation, yet we haven't even seen that money. Where is the money going to go from uranium?"

She added "We had two generations, our grandparents, our parents, how they got exposed to uranium. We have to look at the generations coming up."

Her presentation also showed how oil from a car deposited on the ground could eventually make its way into the water table. "We presented this to third-graders a week ago ... at that age we don't even think about that stuff, we really don't care until we get older."

The Navajo elders found themselves surrounded by pupils and students during the presentations.

"It's for the benefit of the kids," said David Patterson, one of the Navajo elders who was present.
"Now days they have to learn," Patterson said about the pupils. "In my day I never learned about this (environmental topics) ... in boarding school they never taught me." He added "Kids should listen to their parents, their grandpas, their grandmas, that way they can learn more about their traditions, more about Navajo."

The EPA brought a lot of attention to Shiprock High School, Principal Larry DeWees said, since there were only two other sites chosen nationwide. "There's 22,000 high schools across the United Sates they could have chosen from."

DeWees added the program was beneficial because it turned the community into a learning one since it involved three generations. "Every generation is learning from each other," he said.

Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement

Shiprock, NM Map

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