Being Hopi

Today Matt and I are driving away from the Southwest. Taking some time here was a high priority for him. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been surprised, awed, and moved, nearly on a daily basis.

We were in Flagstaff, Arizona when we learned of “the map”—AAA’s Indian Country map. We stumbled upon it, like we’ve stumbled upon so many paths during this trip. Walked by an antique store (“Rogue Antiques”… promising name…) and decided to go in. Bought an old ring, Tiger’s Eye set in silver. Chatted with Jonathan Day, owner of the store and a silversmith. And he asked us if we had the map.

The map covers the four corners—Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico—plus a little of Nevada and even some of California. The state names are on there but are unimportant. In detail on the map are the Native American villages, ancient ruins, tribal lands, and National Parks and Monuments—a white guy invention but one inspired by how the tribes took care of the land.

We spent a transformative day and night on the Hopi Reservation. What’s amazing about the Hopi—actually, everything about the Hopi is amazing, so one thing that’s amazing about the Hopi is that they were never displaced by European settlers. That means they still live in villages that have been continuously occupied by Hopi since 1100 AD. Think about that. Hopi settlements in Arizona are 500 years older than Shakespeare, 700 years older than the Constitution. How did the Hopi stay peacefully on one place when nearly every other Indian tribe was displaced, or destroyed? “We’re lucky… we didn’t have anything that they wanted,” Fred explained.

Fred, our guide to Hotevilla, Old Oraibi, Prophecy Rock, and First Mesa, is a young man, 28 years old, with long braids and a complex relationship with Hopi tradition. He’s not technically Hopi but Tehua. The Hopi have long been peaceful, but when they found themselves threatened, they welcomed in the Tehua, who in turn protected the Hopi. The Tehua live on the land you reach first on the ascent to First Mesa—they’re the front line of defense.

Fred is Hopi, though, and without any asterisks or explanations required. The Hopi are an inclusive people. What a wonderful characteristic, one that we’ve sought out and admired on our travels. The Hopi welcome everyone into their villages—each one might be a bringer of rain. All religions are welcome, without bias. Fred explained, “We’ve all seen God—just at different times and in different forms.”

“That means I am Hopi, and you are Hopi,” said Fred. I locked eyes with him, even though I was driving, to make sure what he meant what he said. Then I cried.

Fred is of the Corn clan. Corn is one of the “three sisters”—corn, squash and beans—that have been staples of Hopi agriculture for a thousand years. The Hopi practice “dry farming.” That means they literally grow their crops without any irrigation—just the water from the sky. We are in the Arizona desert, brown and dry as far as you can see, so special practices are required. Corn is planted two feet underground, where the soil is moist. About 20 seeds are planted, the heartiest of which (hopefully) break through the soil, the weakest of those are weeded out, and the strongest (hopefully) produce full ears of corn.

Fred’s sister says that dry farming is the practice of farming on a wing and a prayer. She may be right. I’d bet that Monsanto farms produce, oh, a slightly higher rate of return.

Fred points out that what dry farming requires makes his people stronger. The fields are spread far out over the mesas, and you need to pay careful attention to the crops to keep them alive. And you have to hope (and wait, and pray) for rain. All of this work and careful attention keeps Hopi elders alive and healthy. Keep working, stay attentive, keep hoping. Do this, and maybe we all can be Hopi.

Matt and Fred, First Mesa

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