Verde Valley School has an interesting history of collaborations with Indigenous peoples since the founding of the school. The oldest buildings on campus, identifiable by narrow wooden doors, stacked-stone fireplaces, roof vigas, and heavy wooden lintels above the doors and windows, were built with a Hopi construction crew. The school location was chosen by anthropologist Hamilton Warren, in large part for its proximity to regional Native American tribes, with the goal of adding Indian perspectives into the learning experience.
In the ensuing years, Warren’s educational model went far beyond cultural tourism into experiences of real intercultural exchange. VVS sent hundreds of American and international students on immersion trips with host families on the Navajo Nation, Hopi Indian Reservation, and Yavapai Apache Nation to name a few. Host families still remember, and sometimes stay in touch with their international visitors. VVS alumni share memories of helping tend sheep, living in a hogan, learning to farm, or just spending time experiencing life from a different perspective. Some describe being a teenager dropped off alone in the middle of nowhere, not understanding much, and not knowing what would come next. For VVS alums, these experiences continued to shape their lives and relationships in Native communities, even into old age.
In 1990, VVS began hosting the Jackson Browne music festival, an annual outdoor concert dedicated to raising scholarship funds for Native American students. Browne wanted to increase opportunities for Indian youth to receive a top-quality education, alongside students from around the world. Browne called in musician friends from around the country to take the stage for the cause. These benefit concerts ran for a decade, generating not only scholarship money, but also awareness for Native issues.
Since 2001, the Native American Scholarship Fund has lain dormant, with various rumors surrounding the end of the music festivals. Native enrollment dwindled over the years, and like any school VVS saw a fair amount of turnover. It seemed for awhile that the concerts, scholarships, and students were just a nostalgic memory. But then something changed.
In 2016, VVS hired its first official Tribal Relations Coordinator, Leigh Carter. Leigh had already been teaching Anthropology classes at VVS for three years, and had pitched the idea as a part-time component to her job. At the same time, Head of School Paul Amadio was inspired to get back to the founding principles of VVS in a modern, relevant way. And so, VVS moved from nostalgia back to social action. VVS Tribal relations moved out of the realm of historical laurels into the future.
Currently VVS has a burgeoning program of Tribal Relations, with a vibrant future on the horizon. Here are some of the projects that the faculty and staff can be found working on:
- Development and fundraising for the Native American Scholarship
- Outreach to Native communities about VVS
- Trips/projects/education on-site in Native communities
- Native American guest educators at VVS, in classrooms and outdoors
- Students attending Native American presentations/performances both on and off campus
- Alignment with Indigenous social and environmental issues that match the school values
- Prioritization of Indigenous perspectives throughout the American History curriculum
This year, VVS began courting top scholars from regional Tribal communities, alongside donors who could support their tuition costs. Initial fundraising efforts elicited great interest in supporting the return of the Native American Scholarship Fund. Over 100 people contributed financially to the first small fundraiser, the Dream Run 5K, which was a bit of a litmus test for the return of the scholarship. Overwhelmingly, VVS alumni weighed in with gratitude and support for the cause of Native students at VVS. The Tribal Relations Coordinator was flooded with ideas for future collaborations and fundraising.
The admissions team is now reviewing talented student applicants from several regional Tribes, and looking forward to offering them financial aid from our grassroots efforts. Teachers and students welcome Indigenous perspectives into classrooms and community life.
There is so much to be learned from one another! If you believe in the cause of supporting Native scholars at VVS, please consider donating to the VVS Native American Scholarship Fund.