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Project Reconnects Native American Youth With Resources

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

National Park News

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and partners recently launched a project that engaged Native American youth and adults in natural and cultural stewardship activities along the San Juan River. The project goals were as follows – mentor local Native American youth to become the next generation of land stewards, reconnect Native American youth to their cultural heritage, assist project participants in developing valuable job skills through implementation of resource stewardship activities, and to foster new and existing partnerships focused on providing opportunities for local Native American youth for years to come.

Since the San Juan River traverses lands that have been inhabited for 12,000 years, they provided an ideal classroom for project participants to reconnect with their cultural heritage and to become acquainted with the area’s long history of land uses and subsequent outcomes.

During the first week of the project, participants gained valuable natural resource management experience by controlling invasive non-native Russian olive and Ravenna grass plants, collecting native plant seeds, and collecting data on desert bighorn sheep that will be used to measure impacts of climate change on bighorn sheep populations. Project participants were fully immersed in the outdoor experience and gained valuable skills by navigating inflatable kayaks through flat and whitewater, hiking Slickhorn Canyon and the Honaker Trail, and backcountry camping along the beautiful San Juan River between Mexican Hat and Clay Hills Crossing.

For the final week of the project, project participants journeyed over to Shiprock, New Mexico, and surrounding areas to participate in cultural heritage activities. Cultural heritage week kicked off with a field trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where project participants learned about ancient cultures and toured the well-preserved Great Houses. Next, the group ventured into the surrounding mountains to learn about the many medicinal and ceremonial uses of local plants. A Navajo elder was on-hand to teach project participants how to butcher and prepare a sheep the Navajo way and how to prepare traditional Navajo fry bread and tortillas. Lastly, a local Hogan provided an inspiring location for project participants to learn about and participate in an Anasazi Ghostway and Monsterway ceremony.

The group also visited a local city park along the San Juan River and discussed possible partnership opportunities for riparian restoration efforts at the site.  Project participants then met with two local non-profits that are interested in partnering on future projects that involve reconnecting youth with Dine’ culture and traditions. Glen Canyon NRA and project partners are excited about the success of this project, and are actively planning future projects.

This project was made possible by a grant by the National Park Foundation through the generous support of ARAMARK through the Yawkey Foundation, The Fernandez Pave the Way Foundation, and the History Channel. In addition, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area would like to thank the following project partners who helped make this a successful project – the Glen Canyon Natural History Association, Rethink Diné Power, Northern Diné Youth Committee, Diné Policy Institute, Lake Mead Exotic Plant Management Team, and Wild Rivers Expeditions.



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