Navajo Kentuckians: Food Literacy as Landscapes of Home

Dec 16th, 2014 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Fall 2014

On Saturday, November 22, 2014, Navajo Kentuckians shared their ongoing collaboration with Food and Digital Literacy at the NCTE Annual Convention. Educators and student presenters invited attendees to see how food stories and Food Literacy can connect and transform the landscapes of Home—both the interior landscape of person and the physical landscape of place. Download the session handout.

Speakers, with links to presentation files:

  • Evelyn Begody, Window Rock Unified School District, Fort Defiance, Arizona
  • Joseph Franzen, Fern Creek Traditional High School, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Brent Peters, Fern Creek Traditional High School, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Rex Lee Jim, Vice President, Navajo Nation, Window Rock, Arizona
  • Students from Fern Creek Traditional High School, Louisville, Kentucky: Kaila Bradley, Richard “Trey” Hughes III, Quentin Stevenson, Savannnah Smith, and Estefania Rodriguez-Raya
  • Students from Window Rock High School, Fort Defiance, Arizona: Jade Goodwill, Kayla Long, Ty Fierce Metteba, and Cassidy Morgan.

What follows is a clip of Brent Peters’ and Vice President Jim’s opening remarks, a set of student-presenter reflections, and a slideshow of images from the event.

Student Reflections on the Visit to Washington, DC

Navajo Kentuckians at the Smithsonian Castle

by Ty Fierce Metteba

On November 21, the Navajo Kentuckians met with Claudine Brown, Smithsonian Secretary for Education and Access, at her office at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.  Director Brown, who had met with the Navajo Kentuckians at Bread Loaf-Middlebury College “Cultivating Food Literacy” 2013 conference,  spoke with us about our interests and about what it means to be part of collaborative group dedicated to improving the health of our communities.  Director Brown responded to my letter (below) about the meeting and encouraged me by saying that she’d like to learn more about my presentation on food and ageing. We learned about many opportunities and resources the Smithsonian provides to students, internships included.

Dear Director Claudine Brown:

Hello, I am Ty Fierce Metteba. I visited you with the Navajo Kentuckians Friday, November 21, 2014.  It was a pleasure and honor to meet you. I am the tall lanky Navajo male with long hair. I never would have thought my first visit to the Smithsonian would be so eventful. Meeting you was one of the highlights of my trip to Washington D.C. 

Thank you for visiting and encouraging us. I enjoyed our group conversation, especially your elaboration on intention and attention. You are right about how people set goals but do not pursue them. For example, I know I am a decent pen and ink artist, but I never followed through with it. I chose to become a violist instead, and I love it. Recently I learned how to play, Ambroise Thomas’s “Gavotte from ‘Mignon’,” a song few of my peers are able to play. I practiced to the point where my hands started to hurt, and after practicing was physically exerting. It took me a week of practice to just learn it. From this experience I learned dedication is critical.  I am a junior now, and in two years, I plan to minor in music so I can continue the viola.

I want to share with you my NCTE presentation on how food is critical to the aging process. I believe this also ties into the intention and attention because almost everyone wants to live a long life, but they are not willing to make the choices for the intended longevity. For example, someone who wants to live beyond 80 years old but eats nothing but junk food is unlikely to reach his goal. If a person wants to live a long life, he has to pay attention to his diet, attitude, and exercise. As in all things, everything has positive and negative outcomes

All in all, I enjoyed this topic because it was new to me, and I was able to relate what I learned to this subject through my research in Ms. Evelyn Begody’s class, reading Omnivore’s Dilemma and other fiction and nonfiction literature. I know I have to pay attention to time and character:  worthy goals. Since I intend to graduate college, I must pay attention to the process, like maintaining my 4.0 GPA, emphasizing academics over romantic endeavors, and building up my academic resume.

Thank you for meeting with us. I personally enjoyed it; it’s not every day that one meets a director at the Smithsonian. I hope to stay in contact because I very much would like to apply for an internship at the Smithsonian this summer. Thanks for all the opportunities and discussions you were able to share. I appreciate this opportunity. 


Ty Fierce Metteba

Junior at Window Rock High School 

“Paying forward is a social responsibility.”

Kayla Long, Window Rock High School

I remember the first time, I was told that I was given the opportunity to attend the NCTE 2014 session in Washington, D.C. At first my reaction was just a simple “Okay” when I was informed, but when that information had finally processed through my mind, I was shocked and questioned, “Why me?” From the start everything has been surreal. Even as of now, it’s hard to process that I did present in front of multiple teachers and some directors in the English field.

The experience in Washington taught me many new things. For example, how the eastern part of the United States is a different world from the western part. My time has brought me closer to my peers—Ty, Jade, and Cassidy—and how we found a way to connect here despite having different sets of friends back at our community. While on this trip, I have also come to learn to embrace new change and not to shove it away. For example, meeting the other half of the Navajo Kentuckians, I felt awkward, but I just had to take time and try to open up. Another example would be the city life in Washington, D.C.; it was a whole different experience than my life in the Navajo Nation. Eventually, I did get used to the idea of the city and just thought of it as Phoenix, Arizona, because they’re about the same almost, but the weather temperature is a whole different story.

In the end, this trip has brought a new perspective for me, and I gained public speaking experience in front of crowd. Usually I coward away from the crowd and stutter, but through this I learned how to speak up and not worry about what others may think. It was a great opportunity to be Washington, D.C., and to travel farther than what I would have expected. Also, to be at the NTCE was an honor and a new memory for me.


Jade Goodwill, Window Rock High School

At school, we are often told to stay on the reservation – it is home. I understand that once I leave the reservation, everything would be different. However, this trip has given me a feel for what the world outside of the Navajo Nation is like – the ‘world outside’ being the capital of the United States. Not only did I get to experience life in the nation’s capital, but I also had the opportunity to strengthen my public speaking skills and meet new people.  Although this trip was my second time going to Washington, D.C., I had an entirely different experience. I had experiences that differed from the first time going, like the cab rides and meeting Claudine Brown from the Smithsonian or the biggest of them all, presenting at NCTE.

After presenting my piece, “Fresh Meat” in front of a room full of people I did not know, I noticed that my public speaking skills enhanced. Leading up to the presentation, the other three students and I spent our evenings in Ms. Begody’s and Ms. Tsosie’s room constantly working on our presentations. Throughout our practice runs, we would receive comments, corrections, and tips on our PowerPoints and presentations. The night before the big day, we stayed in their room until one o’clock in the morning. As a result of the consistent practice, I noticed a dramatic difference in how I presented. I did not stutter or sound like I was about to cry when I spoke, I enunciated and got to the point of what I was trying to say quickly. I believe that these traits were what made my presentation go fluently.

In my PowerPoint I stated that I ate less beef as a result from my research. In all honestly, now that I have presented my research, I have found that I am completely avoiding beef all together. After relaying my research about beef and attempting to consume at McDonald’s hamburger at Dallas Airport, I believe that I became more conscientious of consuming beef. The beef in the hamburger had a soggy cardboard texture – it made me think of the manure lagoons – with a fresh-off-the-grill taste. I remembered the fragrances added in meat to make it have that ‘grill’ flavor. Disturbing thoughts about the beef came flooding into my mind as I took a bite out of the Quarter Pounder. It has been almost two weeks without consuming one piece of beef and I have no regrets or urge to eat it again even though a majority of my friends say that I am missing out. I know that beef is not a specialty anymore.

Overall, this trip allowed me to meet new people—not only the students from Kentucky, but the other three students that went on the trip with me. We did not converse with each other before the trip because we each had different friend groups. Even though our friend groups have not changed since coming back to school, I still know that I can go to them for questions or a good laugh. As for the five other students from Kentucky, we may have not formed a strong bond while on the short trip, but hopefully we do soon with the planned upcoming events.

As much as I want to stay where my home is, I also want to explore my options outside of the reservation. This trip proved that I am capable of presenting in front of an audience that are unfamiliar to me without getting stage fright, it helped me strengthen my work ethic by the continuous amounts of practicing, and enabled me to branch out of my usual group of friends. With the impacts that this trip has given me, I hope to go on another to make an influence on others and to create another fond memory.

Quentin Stevenson, Fern Creek Traditional High School
NCTE: Food Literature as a Landscape for Home
Going to Washington D.C. with Mr. Peters, Mr. Franzen, and five other Food Lit. alumni was an experience that is incomparable to anything else. The trip was the farthest I’ve ever been away from home, and I was completely comfortable. It felt like I never left home, because I didn’t. It’s easy to say that food lit is a landscape for home, and it’s easy to write a speech on it, but to feel at home in food lit is a process. Going to D.C. gave me that feeling more so than any of the classes previously had. Even though the conference is over and the speeches have been given, my landscape of home is still growing.

As for the entire trip, it is something I will look back on for my entire life. For those four days I learned more than I have for the greater part of my high school career. From the roots of America to the roots of those around me, from the time I got on the plane until the time I returned to Kentucky I was learning. Four straight days of learning is something I can honestly say I’ve never reached in the classroom setting. In my opinion it had nothing to do with the teachers (although they helped a lot), nothing to do with the students around me, nothing to do with the location, but it had everything to do with the lack of the classroom setting. Getting out into the real light of the world, and seeing the real sites, is an experience not even the greatest teachers can manufacture. The classroom setting isn’t a bad place, but sometimes it’s most effective outside of the school–whether it be the garden, Washington D.C., or the Navajo Nation. (Read full reflection here. )


Photos contributed by Brent Peters and Emily Gooch

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3 Comments to “Navajo Kentuckians: Food Literacy as Landscapes of Home”

  1. Ceci Lewis says:

    Having had the express pleasure of working with these teachers and their students, I am inspired beyond belief by the critical thinking, exceptional caring, and unassailable support they provide for each other. Imagine a world of classrooms like these, where people (teachers and students alike) work together to solve real everyday issues that are affect not just them, but the world. Wow!

  2. Ceci Lewis says:

    Having had the express pleasure of working with these teachers and their students, I am inspired beyond belief by the critical thinking, exceptional caring, and unassailable support they provide for each other. Imagine a world of classrooms like these, where people (teachers and students alike) work together to solve real everyday issues that are affect not just them, but the world. Wow!

  3. Eloise Lynch says:

    Reading through these students’ reflections, I was struck by a universal feature: true, earnest, un-fake-able enthusiasm. It can be difficult to push students to write a short, formulaic paragraph about cell phone use in schools (one of those topics we adults naively think might interest youths); yet, in the reflections above, students write at length and in detail and with a discernible anxiety to fully articulate each subtle shade of their meaning. Why? Because the experience they describe so vividly matters to them. I’m reminded that providing students with big-picture and real-world contexts to their learning is essential. Our English department meeting is on Monday…time to talk about doing something like this!

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