Cooperative Extension Road Trip: Apache, Navajo, Hopi

Oct. 12, 2018
By Shane Burgess, University of Arizona Vice President for Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension

The mission for UA Cooperative Extension is “to bring the university to the people of the state and bring science to bear on practical problems.” Fulfilling that complex mission takes incredible dedication. I saw that dedication demonstrated time and again when Associate Director of Tribal Extension Trent Teegerstrom and I recently toured extension offices on the Apache, Navajo, and Hopi nations.

We covered 1,100 miles in three days through the vast, beautiful scenery of northeastern Arizona and even a bit of New Mexico. I gained a new and much better appreciation for the extension work being done in that region. I will never forget that trip.

I’d been looking forward to this for a long time (years), and I appreciate everyone along the way for their hospitality and their hard work and commitment.


San Carlos Apache Tribe office

Our first stop was the San Carlos Apache Tribe office. Juan Arias, Assistant in Extension, showed us a small crop of Apache sugar cane growing next to the office. I have seen a lot of sugar cane and had no idea this variety existed. 

Using traditional farming methods, this plant, which looks like corn to my ignorant veterinarian’s eyes, flourishes in Arizona’s climate. As part of his programming to increase awareness of native crops as a healthy option for tribal families, Juan also grows winter melon, giant Apache squash, and other fruits and vegetables.

However, I wasn’t expecting a test at the San Carlos Apache Tribe office! Area Assistant Agent Ashley Dixon (left), who is based in the Gila County office, demonstrated vision screening using a spot machine that’s used as part of the First Things First early childhood program. The program also includes health education and nutritional programming. Also pictured with me are Nicole Talkalai and Juan Arias.

What a great start to our tour of Tribal Extension offices in NE Arizona! From left to right, Trent Teegerstrom, Nicole Talkalai, Ashley Dixon, me, and Juan Arias after our visit to San Carlos. I came away so impressed at the wide range of programming they are developing, including gardening, nutrition, cattle, early childhood, and more. 

Navajo Nation

Next stop: The Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation Fair had concluded just the day before when we visited 4-H Extension Program Coordinator Kristy Dennison and Coordinating Extension Agent Gerald Moore (far right) in Window Rock. They had worked some very long days at the Fair, and my visit gave them another long day. Gerald has been an extension agent for 23 years, while Kristy came on board three years ago. They are a great team! To serve the Navajo Nation they must drive up to six hours to conduct programming. Gerald has built strong partnerships in his time as an agent, working with the USDA and Diné College among others. He helped develop the Navajo Range app which is a plant database for ranchers and agricultural professionals. Meanwhile, Kristy has initiated 12 new 4-H programs in her three years on the job! 

A highlight was joining Navajo Nation community leaders and partners for dinner in Window Rock. This was a wonderful opportunity to interact with dedicated people who are working as elected and government officials, education professionals, businesspeople, and program coordinators and to talk about shared interests and concerns. I truly appreciate all of them taking the time to strengthen the connection between Navajo Nation and the University of Arizona. 

I’d like to specifically thank Richard Begay, Navajo Nation Heritage & Historic Preservation Department, The Honorable Ethel B. Branch, Attorney General of the Navajo Nation, Michelle Henry, Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources, Roxie June, Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture,  Sadie Lister, Native American Producers Success, Yin-Mae Lee, Ramah Navajo School Board, Benita Litson, Diné College Land Grant Office, Loren and Melanie Neztsosie, RJ Rodeo, Carole Palmer, Navajo Community Outreach & Patient Empowerment, Sharon Sandman, Native American Producers Success, Michelle Spencer, St. Michaels Association for Special Education, and Kim Yazzie, Labatt Food Service.

Shiprock (New Mexico) next! Assistant in Extension Alexandra Carlisle is in her first year with the University of Arizona in the Shiprock Office. Alex has put 35,000 miles on her car building programs in across the eastern section of Navajo Nation. Growing up in 4-H, Alex has known Gerald Moore for most of her life. She worked in the agriculture industry for three years before coming to UA Tribal Extension for the Nation’s kids. I really enjoyed talking to her about her adventures in her first year with the UA and her ideas for the future, which include growing 4-H in schools and developing connections with livestock owners in her area.

Next, due west to Tuba City! Here we spent an afternoon with Extension Program Coordinator Grey Ferrell, Jr., who has been serving the Navajo Nation for 26 years, including the past 10 with the University of Arizona. Grey covers an incredible seven million acres, bringing Extension programming to 2,200 grazing permit holders in the western Navajo Nation. He works closely with the Labatt Food Services’ Native American Beef Brand to strengthen their brand and outreach. Before we left, Grey took us for a brief inside look at preparations for the Western Navajo Fair, held each October.

Hopi Tribe office

We then made our way to visit Hopi Tribe Assistant Agent Susan Sekaquaptewa. Susan has had an incredible career that has taken her to Washington D.C. and back. She showed us warm hospitality in Kykotsmovi including serving her really great homemade salsa, and inviting seven Tribal members to join us. Susan is in her first year as an extension agent for the UA, and she’s working to start a 4-H program, and developing range management, school and community gardens, and renewable energy programs as well.

Thanks to Tribal members Clayton Honyumptewa, Director of Natural Resources, Art Honani, Range Management Specialist, Bruce Talawayma, Chief of Staff, Chairman’s Office, Stewart Koyiyumptewa, Program Director, Hopi Cultural Preservation, Joel Nicholas, Archaeologist, Hopi Cultural Preservation, Ken Lomayestewa, Program Director, Renewable Energy, and Pricilla Paratea, Program Director, Range Management, for taking time out of your schedules to join us.

Flagstaff lunch with Ganado School District leaders

We concluded our trip in Flagstaff to learn about the Ganado Unified School District’s exciting plans for a new Agri-Science Complex. The building will allow the district to enhance its curriculums in culinary arts, nutrition, meat processing, and career and technical education, and provide community classroom space. Pictured are (standing, left to right) Trent Teegerstrom, Dr. Sharon Dial, Director of the Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Lucille Sidney, Principal, Ganado High School, Doris Nelson, Director, Career and Technical Education, Ganado High School, Allan Blacksheep, Governing Board Member, Ganado Unified School District, Leander Thomas, Agricultural/Veterinary Sciences/CTE Instructor, Dr. Scott Going, Department Head, UA Nutritional Sciences, and in the front row are Dr. Matthew Jenks, Director, UA School of Plant Sciences, myself, and Dr. Patricia Stock, Interim Director, UA School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. Not pictured is Dr. Jim Maciulla, Assistant Dean, UA Clinical Relations and Outreach, Veterinary Medicine Administration, who also attended the meeting but was strangely AWOL for the official photo-op. Thanks to all!