“Once upon a time as the full spring moon went down and the warm spring sun rose over Canyon de Chelly, Home God (Haashch’éehoghan) and his family went out to plant their field. They sang as they went along, and the songs of the Home God made everyone happy and even made the day more beautiful than it already was. Home God’s songs were like that. He could do almost anything with songs.” —from “The Field of the Home God” in Navajo Farming
There is magic happening in the field of the Home God. Those who gather in the garden to work and sing become part of a remarkable transformation, as remarkable as the transformation of a planted seed when carefully tended. This is the story of one such carefully tended idea: The Garden of the Home God Food and Digital Literacy Workshop, which began on the Navajo Nation in February, 2013. At this workshop, Navajo and Kentucky students formed a community to plan an investigation of food-related issues on the Navajo Nation and in Kentucky communities. These investigations have yielded a greater understanding of home and the world, and we have begun to share this knowledge with others.
Bread Loaf graduate and current Vice President of the Navajo Nation Rex Lee Jim invited students, teachers, and community members from Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, KY, to join teachers, students, and elders from schools and communities on the Navajo Nation for an opportunity to learn from each other by sharing stories of place and culture. Vice President Jim began the workshop with a welcoming ceremony that included singing and prayer in a hogan with táádidíín, or corn pollen. During the two-day workshop, students, teachers, and elders shared food stories, wrote poems and songs together, shared home-cooked meals, and investigated questions like “Is food sacred?” and “Is school lunch saving our generation?”. The group then created a name and a digital space called Navajo Kentuckians. The site has allowed the Navajo Kentuckians to share photos, original writings, and digital creations from the workshop with their schools and communities. While visiting the Navajo Nation, Kentucky students visited the Navajo Technical College’s Culinary and Technology Programs, Window Rock, AZ, Window Rock High School, Hubbell Trading Post, Canyon de Chelly, and Diné College.
The Garden of the Home God Workshop continued in Louisville, KY, in April 2013. The Navajo Kentuckians formed investigative teams under the guidance of Fern Creek Principal Dr. Houston Barber and teachers Paul Barnwell, Joseph Franzen, and me. The goal of Home God/Louisville was to research food-related issues that were identified by students during our earlier workshop in Arizona: “food and poverty,” “food equity and access,” “food choice,” “bad food and food-related disease,” “food education,” and “food and home.” The students used the state of Kentucky as a classroom, posing questions to be answered by community members connected to the local food economy in Kentucky. The group visited Emma Lou’s Café, Kenny’s Country Cheese, Mammoth Cave, Smoketown U.S.A., Ivor Chodkowski at Field Day Family Farm, The Food Literacy Project at Oxmoor Farm, Proof Restaurant for a conversation with Chef Levon Wallace, City Hall for a meeting with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens, Harvest Restaurant, The Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market, and The Mayan Café for dinner and conversation with Chef Bruce Ucán. Through these visits, Navajo Kentuckians had the opportunity to learn about their local food economies, and they began to see themselves as action researchers using knowledgeable community members as primary sources. Each group created a digital case study that synthesized their voices with their experiences, interviews, and photographs. These case studies were shared via the Navajo Kentuckians digital site.
The Navajo Kentuckians stories about food and home have led to critical investigations in local, regional, and digital communities. This past August, for example, Navajo Kentuckians made a presentation to a group of Navajo educators at Native Innovation’s 2013 Technology Leadership Conference: “Digital Learning for the American Indian Student” at Twin Arrows Casino and Resort in Flagstaff, AZ. This October, the group will be presenting on behalf of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College’s first Food Summit, with a keynote address to be given by Dr. Claudine Brown, the director of education at the Smithsonian Institution. The group has also been invited to present at this year’s NCTE Conference in Boston in a session entitled The Case for Food Literacy sponsored by the Bread Loaf Teacher Network.
The garden is a fitting metaphor for the ongoing work of the Navajo Kentuckians. It started with much hope and careful planning and is now growing and maturing. The group invites others to be a part of the magic that takes place in this “garden.” Navajo Kentuckians sing the song of the Home God, a song of transformation, a song of individuals who, working together, have strengthened the ties of home, health, and community.