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Urban-forestry program brings Navajo Indian from Arizona to Boston

AmeriCorps worker Kevin Tso is a Navajo Indian who came to Boston from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where he lives with his family.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

AmeriCorps worker Kevin Tso is a Navajo Indian who came to Boston from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where he lives with his family.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation for the first time has started a seasonal urban-forestry program to connect inner-city residents to nearby woodland areas. With a grant from the US Forest Service, the state conservation agency and the nonprofit Student Conservation Association hired two AmeriCorps workers who have been clearing and building urban hiking trails and talking to residents about forestry and hiking. Their primary focus is Stony Brook Reservation in Hyde Park. One of them, Kevin Tso, is a Navajo Indian who came to Boston from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where he lives with his family. For the Boston job, Kevin, a junior at Utah State, has been teamed up with Curtis Durham, 23, from Grand Rapids, Mich. Tso, 21, spoke to the Globe about life on the reservation and coming east.

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

Kevin Tso (right) has been clearing and building urban hiking trails with Curtis Dunham of Michigan.

Q. What is Navajo Nation like?

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A. It’s the largest reservation in the US, about the same size as West Virginia. It’s in northeastern Arizona and goes into southeast Utah and parts of New Mexico. More than 200,000 people live there. Both my parents and grandparents grew up on the reservation. I enrolled in the same school they all went to.

Q. Do you speak the Navajo language?

A. It’s really hard to learn, but I can speak some.

Q. How did you happen to come to Boston?

A. I took rock climbing and canyoneering and survival class and my professor saw that I liked being outdoors. He had done an internship through the Student Conservation Association and suggested it. I was looking for something closer to home, but this is the one that called me back for an interview.

‘On the reservation, we have a wood stove. . . . So I already knew how to use a chain saw.’

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Q. Is this your first time east?

A. Yes, I didn’t know what to expect. Curtis and I got to Boston the week of the Marathon. We went to the Common and then Boylston Street, and saw the runners coming in.

Q. Where do you live in Boston?

A. We get a housing stipend, and I found a room in someone’s house in Hyde Park. We’re basically volunteers. We get a stipend for food and housing.

Q. You and Curtis work as a team. What sort of work have you done here?

A. We are urban and community foresters. We do trail maintenance and tree removal. We helped high school students build a new hiking trail along the Neponset River in Mattapan. Today, we are helping build a boardwalk in Stony Brook Reservation. It’s going to be handicapped accessible. We do a lot of chain-saw work.

Q. That can be dangerous. How did you learn it?

A. When we first got here, we were trained. But on the reservation, we have a wood stove, and that’s how we stay warm in the winter. So I already knew how to use a chain saw.

Q. Have you had any work-related problems?

A. Just poison ivy and bee stings.

Q. Have you eaten lobster yet?

A. No seafood yet. We mostly eat subs and steak bombs. There’s a good diner around here. It’s fun hearing the Boston accents.

Q. Have you done any sightseeing?

A. I visited the Boston Harbor Islands on a ferry this past weekend.

Q. You wrap up your work on Sept. 6. Are you glad you did this?

A. At first, I was really afraid of this internship. But I’m glad I did it because this is way better than working at the gas station on the reservation.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.
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