The experience in the southwest changed my life forever. It was exactly what I needed and taught me so much about releasing my expectations. I learned an incredible amount from the beautiful people on the journey and can only be in deep gratitude to Carpe Diem for providing such an amazing and blessed experience.

- Abby, Indigenous America Fall 2012

The experience of living on the reservations and getting a firsthand education on traditional Indigenous cultures and modern issues the tribes are being forced to cope with or to resist is not something one can accurately learn about through a textbook or a classroom. Simply listening to a Native voice and hearing the inflections of pain, anger and resilience regarding certain topics is enough to give a student the chance to learn about what really matters to numerous peoples who have been forced to fight to protect their way of life for centuries and who remain strong in the face of all hardships which have been cast against them.

- Thomas, Indigenous America Fall 2013


Through community service, cross-cultural exploration and contemplation, Carpe Diem Education’s three-month Indigenous America (IAM) Semester is ideal for those who feel drawn to better understand the First Peoples of the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico.

With a program design that values reciprocity, Carpe Diem Education strives to build meaningful relationships with the many gracious hosts along your journey. This experiential learning involves hiking, camping and engaging discussion – you will be introduced to a routine that’s completely different from the one you know.

Begin with an orientation in Flagstaff, AZ, where you will get to know each other as you also start to explore some of the questions you will encounter over the course of the semester: What is the living history of this land? What are the dilemmas facing us, and what creative solutions are being explored to address them? Who am I in relation to all of this?

After a night at the Grand Canyon, travel to the Hopi Nation where you will learn principles of permaculture while engaging hands-on in natural building and seed saving, among other projects. Build your knowledge and humbly contribute to ongoing projects as you visit various communities within the Navajo Nation, adding on layers of perspective to ongoing geopolitical questions surrounding the well-being of water, land and people.

Gain further perspective as you visit with inspiring leaders of Zuni and San Carlos Apache Nations, and then take a week of ”student directed travel” to further explore questions and places of interest to you and your peers.

Driving south toward the US-Mexico border, enter into the confluence of border politics and Indigenous lifeways. You will get a sense for the different issues facing the Tohono O’odham on each side of the US-Mexico border, and contribute to the ongoing projects of a group working in Sonora, Mexico.

Spend many nights camping out under the stars, immersed in the beauty of the southwest. Raft the San Juan River, visit Monument Valley, spend a night in Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon, explore the unique ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, and take in the breathtaking waterfalls of Havasupai.

We welcome all applicants who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of each other and sharing the stories, from both past and present, that have shaped and are shaping who we are.

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We will enter into the semester from Flagstaff, Arizona, a funky pioneer town located in northern Arizona, off of historic Route 66. Flagstaff is located at the foot of the San Francisco, or Kachina Peaks, which rise to 12,000 feet. The Peaks are a sacred mountain range for many tribes of the Southwest, and as you have a chance to both walk on this land and speak with local youth and elder activists who are trying to protect them, you will begin to feel the depth and richness of the experience before us. The group will begin to get to know one another, share intentions for the journey ahead, and set the stage for entrance into Native Nations. You will also have the chance to visit Lowell Observatory, where researchers discovered the expanding nature of the universe, and pay homage to one of the greatest wonders of this planet: the Grand Canyon.
Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS)

The group will travel northeast to the region of Black Mesa, whose dark complexion stems from the coal deposits contained in its flanks. Here, we will explore the issues of land rights and intercultural tensions between the Navajo, Hopi, and mining corporations. The Navajo and Hopi peoples of this area have persisted in this land of biological starkness for upwards of 7,000 years, in part because of the vital water supply springing from the porous sandstone on this 8,000 ft mesa, which emerges abruptly from the flat desert surrounding it. After providing a permanent supply of drinking water to the villages in the vicinity for millennia, the aquifer has recently been threatened by water-intensive coal mining. We will partner with BMIS, a volunteer-run collective committed to supporting the Indigenous peoples of Black Mesa in their resistance and survival efforts. In addition to learning about the complex nuances of the Land Dispute, we will collaborate in the completion of daily chores, particularly with elderly families in the area.


We will begin to understand how important and difficult cultural preservation has been for the Navajo by visiting Ganado, the site of what was once one of the largest Christian missions in the United States. Here, we will peer into the history of the area as a means of gaining understanding of the dynamics of the present. We will also collaborate with local chapter houses (local governing bodies) in projects to benefit the elderly or most in need. During our time in the Ganado area, we will also visit Hubbell Trading Post, the oldest trading post in the nation, and Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation.

Tohono O’odham Nation – Gente de I’itoi

Your group will also journey south toward Magdalena, Mexico where you collaborate with the work of the nonprofit organization called Gente de I’itoi. Founded with the vision to create a space for O’odham to come together to maintain language, culture and overall well-being, Gente de I’itoi are working to cultivate a community space. Your group will join efforts to continue in the construction of this place, while exchanging thoughts and reflections with our thoughtful and caring hosts.

Solo Journey

After over two months of immersion in the southwest region and its peoples, we will take the time to address our internal journeys through a powerful ritual. We will base ourselves at the foot of Baboquivari Peak on the Tohono O’odham reservation. Situated in this powerful setting, and guided by an experienced support team, you will find yourself immersed in nature, fasting from food and interaction with other humans. Through this challenge, you will come to know what is meant by rite of passage, and get a sense of the power of such an ancient practice to unearth your own clarity of purpose.

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture

We will begin the semester with two weeks on the Hopi Reservation. The Hopi people are considered direct descendants of the Ancestral Pueblano people who lived here for centuries. Here, the Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture project has been contributing to efforts in creating sustainable and thriving communities, and providing insight into the Hopi tutskwa – the life ways and knowledge of – by working alongside youth and other community members of Kykotsmovi (the capital of the Hopi Nation). Depending on the needs of the community on arrival, we will engage in projects with the land, which may include orchard restoration, building a cob home, and seed-saving. During our stay in Hopi, community members may invite us to view ceremonies that honor the land and people of this place, giving us a rare window into the vibrant traditions of this culture.

Dine College

Dine College is a public institution of higher education chartered by the Navajo Nation. Founded in 1968, it was the first tribal college to be established. The mission of Dine College is to incorporate Sa’ah Naaghai Bik’eh Hozhoon (Dine traditional living system) along with western disciplines to advance student learning through Nitsahakees (Thinking), Nahata (Planning), Iina (Living) and Siih Hasin (Assuring). You will have the opportunity to learn about their innovative programs, meet students, and see how the nation is empowering its own youth to address the concerns and needs of the Nation.

Zuni Nation

We will have the opportunity to work alongside Zuni artist, farmer and educator, Jim Enote. Camping on Jim’s land, we will assist in preparing the land to rest for the winter season, and spend our nights around fire circles learning from his vast wisdom in language, art, mapping, and work in Indigenous rights.

Chaco Canyon

We will visit one of the most significant hubs of pre-historic Pueblo Indian culture– Chaco Canyon. As we roam through the highland desert seeking glimpses of mysteriously intriguing and intricate ruins, we will listen as local experts help paint a fascinating picture for us of the vibrant life during the flowering of the remarkably advanced Chaco culture from AD 850-1250!

San Carlos Apache Nation

We will spend some time learning from inspiring leaders of the San Carlos Apache Nation, particularly in terms of the history as it informs the dynamics as they exist today. We will learn of recent struggles to protect the sacred land of Gaan Canyon, Oak Flats and Apache Leap from mining prospects, and gain an embodied meaning of the area through canyoneering through its remote area.


For a portion of the semester, we will be based out of the diverse city of Tucson to inform ourselves about the realities of migration and other issues surrounding US-Mexico border politics. In collaboration with the organization BorderLinks, you will learn how indigenous peoples have been affected by the border: both through the border’s intersection of the Tohono O’odham Nation, as well as through the struggles of migrants, many of whom are Indigenous peoples from Mexico and Central America. Through travel to the border wall, desert migrant trails, and discussions with various leaders who have devoted their lives to the crisis in the borderlands, you will expand your perceptions of the notion of borders.

Follow your heart and try your hand at forging your own path for the next several days! As a group you will have the opportunity to work together in designing next steps of the adventure. Working with a budget and investigating the multitude of possibilities for exploration of northern New Mexico, as a team you will decide whether to spend more time in the outdoors, soak in Jemez Valley hot springs, visit Los Alamos or the various Pueblos around Santa Fe, among other treasures you may find.
Rafting the San Juan River

Unknown to many, the Colorado River, which inspiringly carved the Grand Canyon, now runs dry before reaching the Sea of Cortez. This precious resource is at the epicenter of life for the southwest and we will spend a few days floating down the San Juan River, one of the main tributaries that feeds the Colorado River. The river canyon exposes sedimentary rock layers chronicling 300 million years of Earth’s history and also provides a window into ancient Native American history in the form of cliff dwelling and petroglyphs along its banks, which we will learn about from an experienced local guide. Diverse animal (look out for bighorn sheep!) as well as plant life and majestic geological features can be seen as you raft down this river.

Canyon de Chelly

Breathtaking scenery awaits you in Canyon de Chelly, the emergence place of the Dine, and considered the epicenter of Navajo culture. Taking time to be in the Canyon is essential to further understanding of the Dine. Canyon walls reach up to one thousand feet high and ancient Ancestral Pueblano dwellings line the canyon floor. This canyon is part of Navajo tribal trust land and continues to be home to many Dine. We will be permitted to enter the canyon with a Native guide, who will share with us the powerful stories hidden within the canyon, and also of the interruption of life that occurred with the invasion of Kit Carson. Spending a night camping on the canyon floor will allow the group time around the campfire to greater appreciate the beauty and complexity of this space.


Overflowing with new knowledge and insights, we will have our last adventure together to Havasupai, a lesser-known region of the Grand Canyon. Hiking down into the dry desert canyon, home to the Havasupai, or Havsuw’ Baaja, we will come upon blue-green waters and immense waterfalls, whose meandering waters will lead us to the Colorado River… a perfect setting for personal and collective reflection.



FALL 2017 September 13 – December 6

Please Note This program is only offered in the Fall.
Not sure what to do after your semester? Check out our Latitudes program to do a focused volunteer placement for your second semester! CLICK HERE


A maximum of 8 Students & 2 Program Leaders


Ages 17 and Up


We are proud to partner with Tufts University as a placement for their 1+4 Bridge Year Service Learning Program. Learn more on our Tufts 1+4 Bridge Year Page.


Earn up to 18 credits through our partnership with Portland State University.
Learn more on our College Credit page.

Carpe Diem students can access Financial Aid.
Learn more on our Financial Aid page.





Program tuition includes all food, accommodations and scheduled program activities for the duration of the program. Airfare, health insurance and spending money are extra. Airfare estimated at $300 – $600. Tuition reductions considered on a case-by-case basis.