FLAGSTAFF-What is it that makes northern Arizona so unique, compelling those that live here to be their best and help others to excel? Perhaps it's the sacred lands we live within. The San Francisco Peaks, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, the buttes and cliffs of Sedona and Utah, and the Colorado and San Juan rivers nurture us and remind us of where we came from.
At the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Ecological Monitoring and Assessment (EMA) Program, the beauty of these environmental features and the people who surround them is honored and used as a learning opportunity. Founded in 2001, EMA cultivates partnerships between resource managers, researchers, business groups, tribal organizations and more. Through these alliances, "...science-based knowledge and technologies to support the sound stewardship and conservation of the lands and resources of the Southwest" are fostered.
According to EMA program coordinator and river guide Nikki Cooley, Diné, the EMA program pursues the development of opportunities for Native students to earn degrees in the fields of environmental science and outdoor recreation and then return to their tribal communities to use this knowledge.
"Through EMA, Native people can see that there are foundations out there that offer opportunities in environmental science-not just the basics of math and science-but that there are people out there encouraging Native students to pursue environmental science and outdoor recreation," Cooley said. "This program is always partnering with Native communities. It really reaches out. I haven't seen that with other programs I've worked with."
Since 2005, EMA and NAU Outdoors have joined to offer research and educational programs along the San Juan River.
River trips varying in duration from three to eight days have been designed to offer a unique classroom for participants to learn about environmental issues in addition to anthropology, women's studies, parks and recreation management and more. In total, EMA and NAU Outdoors have engaged staff from 12 different departments and programs along the San Juan River.
Cooley and Janet Lynn, EMA coordinator, emphasized the main focus of fostering learning opportunities for Native participants in all EMA programs.
"In all of our programs we try to train and hire as many Native American students as possible. If they're not out there, then we say, 'let's see if we can get interested people in the university to train Native students," Lynn said.
In May, EMA and NAU Outdoors spearheaded the Native American River Guide and Cultural Interpretation Training Program designed specifically to train Native students in the basics of river guiding and cultural interpretation of the ancestral Puebloan sites along the river.
Due to the success of this pilot course, another session will be offered in June 2008 to all students.
Integral to the functioning of the San Juan River programs are scholarship and private funding sources. Since its inception, the San Juan River Scholarship Program has awarded approximately $10,000 to students to provide opportunities for learning.
According to Cooley, the average cost per person for a three- to-four-day trip is $350-400. This amount includes travel costs to the river, food, supplies and guide compensation. Without the scholarship program, the San Juan programs would not be possible.
To raise money for the programs a fundraiser and silent auction will be held from 5:30-8 p.m., Nov. 30, at the NAU Applied Research and Development Building (Building No. 56).
Everyone is invited to the free event to learn about the programs and enjoy the donated artwork of Shonto Begaye, Jonah Hill, Patty West, Gary Dunn and more. These items in addition to jewelry, outdoor equipment, gift certificates and others will be auctioned off and a raffle will also be held.
Cooley mentioned the exciting donations from the Painted Desert Trading Post, Winter Sun Trading Post, Aspen Sports and others. However, she said that contributions to the auction are still needed.
"Any type of silent auction donations are needed. Anything from headlamps to dutch ovens (she emphasized), jewelry, artwork, photographs, outdoor equipment...any of these would be great," she said.
Guest speakers will include Brad Dimock, a long-time boatman, who will discuss the life of Bert Loper "Old man of the Grand Canyon," and Andy Hutchinson, river guide and owner of High Desert Boat Works in Durango, Colo., will describe the restoration of Norm Nevels' boat, The Sandra.
A catered reception will be offered to all in attendance.
Raffle tickets are now available for $4 by calling Lynn at (928) 523-0714 or Cooley at (928) 523-0715. Raffle prizes will include a trip down the San Juan; a deluxe Grand Canyon Jeep tour; and a gift certificate to Jackson's Grill. Tax deductible donations can also be made by contacting Lynn or Cooley.