Christian McMillen / History & American Studies

Each fall I teach a course on American Indian history. Most students come to the classknowing next to nothing about American Indians; few have ever met an Indian much less spent time on a reservation. My Dream Idea—and this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time—is to take several students in my class to Indian country. There would be no better culminating experience.

I propose to take four students to the Hualapai Indian reservation in northwestern Arizona. The reservation covers almost 1 million acres in the western Grand Canyon country of the Colorado Plateau—one of the most stunning landscapes of the American West. The Hualapai, and their close neighbors and relatives the Havasupai, have lived there for more than 1,000 years. Over the course of four days on the reservation, the students would be introduced to tribal government, Indian health care, and Hualapai and Havasupai history and archeology, including their long-term relationship with the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. In my course I strive to make the American Indian experience as vital as possible, but their history and lives still remain mostly abstract. By taking students to the Hualapai reservation they will begin to gain an understanding of contemporary reservation life, but also learn about the deep ties the Hualapais have to their homeland—a lesson I try to impart all semester long about Indian people in general.

In bringing students to the Hualapai reservation I hope to show them, of course, contemporary Indian life. But I also want students to see the relationship between my teaching and my research (I have written a book on the Hualapai). One topic we will surely explore on the trip—and one I explore in class quite a bit—is land claims to historically occupied areas. In doing so, students will learn that historical research can have a profound impact on Indian life. They will also begin to see that much of the history they learned during the semester is, for Indian people, much more than an abstraction. The past, both the good and the bad, is part of everyday Indian life.

Because I have both a professional and personal relationship with members of the tribe facilitating such things as a visit with the tribal chairman, a one day raft trip on the Colorado River, an overnight stay at Supai Village and/or an all day tour of otherwise off-limits areas of the Grand Canyon will be possible. Details of where to go and what to see will be worked out in conjunction with the tribe. I have already cleared the trip with the tribe’s Cultural Resources office. The Cultural Resource Office, Lorretta Jackson, is eager to help plan a trip for my students which will encompass history, land-use, political structure, among other things.


In the following fall I would then have the four students give a presentation to my current class and how it related to what they learned in the course. I will base my selection of students on two things. First, each year my students write original research papers on 20th century reservation life. I will choose the top ten essays. Next, I will ask those ten students to write another essay explaining why they want to visit an Indian reservation.

My only misgiving with this proposal is the necessarily limited number of students who can be involved. After giving some considerable thought to a project that would involve more students, but which would mean staying on Grounds, I kept coming back to this idea—it’s truly a dream idea, something that could not be done otherwise.


1) Airfare: $1000 (4 students going from Dulles/National to Las Vegas at approximately $250* per student. I will pay my own airfare out of other funds to facilitate taking more students.)

2) Rental car: approximately $120

3) Lodging: $800 (2 rooms at approximately $65 per night for 4 nights double occupancy; 1 room at approximately $65 single occupancy for 4 nights)

4) Food: $80 (this is the remaining balance based on an award of $2000)**

*fares subject to change. This was the fare as of 8/7/06, but it is a commonly available rate.

** This is the best estimate I can come up with at the moment. If selected, as planning proceeds I will either seek other funds or perhaps reduce the number of students by one. It is quite possible that the $2000 will not cover all costs such as food. I will either take 3 students instead of 4 or subsidize the cost of the trip out of my own travel funds.