The first ever CIELO Tribal Nations of Arizona program was a great success!

July 5, 2023
CIELO participants mudding the walls of passive solar house

Nina Sajovec


Have you ever build a greenhouse using traditional Hopi building techniques? University of Arizona students got a chance to do just that this past June as a part of a new Cultural & Inclusive Experiential Learning Opportunities (CIELO) program called Tribal Nations of Arizona Experience. Participants of this week-long program focused on the nexus between public health, environment and food sovereignty by visiting communities of the Hopi, Navajo, Pascua Yaqui, and Tohono O'odham Nations, as well as engaged in a service activity.

From June 5th to June 8th dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson, core faculty member of the University of Arizona Indigenous Resilience Center ( at Arizona Institutes for Resilience (AIR), and assistant specialist in the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences hosted CIELO participants at his home in Kykotsmovi village on Hopi Nation in Northern Arizona. During the days, participants engaged in hands-on activities, learned about Hopi food system, dry farming and crops while evenings were dedicated to sharing food and stories and enjoying the endless star-lit skies.

As a service project, participants worked under the guidance of dr. Johnson to construct a passive solar greenhouse which will help extend season and also serve as a growing lab. Using only materials found on site such as larger slate stones, fine dirt and water (which had to be driven in as dr. Johnson does not have a running water), participants built and mudded walls of the greenhouse which attached to the existent house. They also installed windows and a roof.

Dr. Johnson shared that his objective for the three days was to promote Hopi culture and show how Western science and traditional environmental knowledge can work together: “This greenhouse as a great example of working with the environment rather than against it,” said dr. Johnson. “This really is us, human beings, and Mother Nature working together through sharing and processes of reciprocation. If I am taking something I am also giving something back in the form of respect, honoring, and resiliency.”

CIELO participants enjoyed themselves immensely – it was hard and messy work but they loved hands-on learning as well as experiencing tribal culture. For all of them, this was their first trip to a tribal reservation. Dr. Johnson shared that he was very proud of the participants for finishing the project, and he also enjoyed hearing feedback from the students  He himself grew up working with his family while for some of the students, this was the first time they were ever asked to do something with their hands. “Now they know they can do something with their own hands, and that’s what this experience is all about,” added dr. Johnson. “Our work is instilling confidence in people and teaching them that they can do things!”  

CIELO 2023 Tribal Nations Experience was a week-long pilot project designed in partnership with the University of Arizona's College of Nursing & Public Health and supported by the Haury Program. For more information please visit CIELO program website: