AISS hosts first "Alternative Spring Break" at theGrand Canyon

April 4, 2014 - Mara Kerkez

UNM students spend Alternative Spring Break with the Havasupai tribe of the Grand Canyon. 

The University of New Mexico’s American Indian Student Services (AISS), a program that provides cultural and academic programming for American Indian students, hosted its first "Alternative Spring Break" developed to contribute tribal service, expand community and cultural education and gain insightful motivational experiences. Six UNM students and two staff traveled to the Havasupai Reservation in Arizona, near the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to assist the Havasupai Tribe with environmental improvement endeavors.

Due to the lack of vehicles on the Havasupai Reservation, participants traveled by foot hiking nearly 28 miles to reach their destination. Students spent time in the Supai village working directly with tribal members on service projects that included learning about and assisting in a composting initiative to help the tribe’s gardens withstand the isolated conditions; cleaning up trash and debris throughout village that harsh winds had blown in; answering personal house cleaning requests; and working in the Supai’s landfill recycling center that raises funds for the small on-site school.

“I learned so much from this experience and will always cherish the memories,” said Tia Benally, a sophomore majoring in community health. “Looking back, I realize how fortunate I am to be a Native American (Navajo) receiving an education, and how I took for granted things like running water, electricity, vehicles, health care, food, family and friends.”

Students learned about the Supai culture during a session with Havasupai Vice Chairman Roland Manakaja, and other tribal members who discussed community struggles and work the tribe is doing to overcome many obstacles in their unique isolated community.      

Contreta Endwarrior, a junior majoring in health education said, “The most beneficial thing I took with me from the trip was observing another tribe’s life style and how they function within it. The Supai are separated from much of today's world and don’t possess the latest technology and material goods. But even with their struggles, they work hard to become better as a people and a community.”

Visit Havasupai for a Flickr slideshow highlighting moments of the trip.

For more information, contact Janice Acton at (505) 277–6343; email