Upcoming new release: Bears Ears

If you have a need to know more about the Bears Ears region, and why this landscape needs to be protected, and you should, then you need to add this book to your collection. “Behind The Bears Ears”, by my good friend & colleague, Ralph Burrillo, @r.e.burrillo. 

Available for pre-order now at the link below.


@torreyhousepress. #bearsears #cedarmesa #southwesternarchaeology #respect

Season 3 Teaser – SoundCloud

Be sure to check out the “Mesa Verde Voices” Podcast. Ill be sharing some insights about trade networks and relationships within the Ancestral Pueblo World.

Listen to Season 3 Teaser by Mesa Verde Voices on #SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/mesaverdevoices/e0-season-3-teaser

Spirits Among the Sandstone

Sandstone Canyons.
Toko’navi in the far distance.

It’s 2 AM in the morning and I’m sitting on a steep, rocky hillside, deep inside a canyon in Southeastern Utah. I am not alone. An intimate group of friends and family have also made the long backpack to reach this location. We sit in a loose circle, shivering slightly against the chilly air, reminding us it is close to the fall equinox. We have timed our arrival just right. We all stare in one direction, fixated on the cliff face that lies directly across from us. Our gaze follows the full moon’s downward arc towards the dark outline of the cliff edge. A prominent outcrop of rock interrupts the knife edge of canyon wall. This intersection of sky and stone will soon be part of the great reveal we have come to witness.

There is another counterpart to this interplay of earth and sky, the final element sits behind us, silently holding vigil as it has for perhaps a thousand years. It too gazes upward, awaiting the signal that will transform this natural landscape into also a human landscape. Embedded in the sloping hillside sits a large, dark boulder, gazing upwards awaiting a signal from the celestial void above. It faces the setting moon and looks out over the canyon floor far below which winds away from us to the south.

Upon its black, polished surface is a symbol, carved by human hands that bridges the celestial with the earthly. An 8-ringed spiral sits 2-dimensional, yet interacts with the 3-dimensional, perhaps even beyond to an existence that is both ephemeral and ageless. A smaller spiral is connected to the larger by a series of horizontal lines.

Next to the large spiral symbol stands a human-figure with a bird head; a watcher of time that has noted the passing of the eons since given existence by human hands. 2 diagonal lines cut across these images, one passes over the center of the spiral, while the other slashes the bird-headed figure from shoulder to mid-torso. Bird imagery surrounds the whole scene, a migration flock frozen in time perhaps.

Petroglyph Calendar.

As we sit between towering canyon walls, the air is charged with anticipation. Will it happen? Overcast clouds drift between us and the moon, playing with our emotions as they cast distorted shadows into the canyon and across our bodies, illuminating us with light, then darkness. We nervously move our heads from side to side, as if we can peer around the clouds to get a clear view, but to no avail. We are patient and remain seated, gazing upward. Singing crickets and the gentle rush of winds through the cottonwood trees down in the canyon floor are the only sounds. I shift to alleviate the numbness in my legs, we talk in silent whisper and make subtle gestures. It feels quiet, but not entirely.

We are not alone.

Boulders surrounding us contain numerous carved images; anthropomorphs, snakes, footprints, bird tracks, all in suspended animation, waiting for the signal in which they will take on new life. High up on the sandstone walls behind us, stand other figures painted in white pigment, they stare out over the deep canyon, sentinels guarding the secrets of the past.  The moon nears its final approach to the cliff face. We all lean forward as if expecting a wave of energy to reverberate back to us. We prepare for the inevitable. We hold our breathes, eyes widening, hearts beating in our ears.

A deafening silence descends over us, crickets go silent, winds cease, and the earth’s rotation seems to slow, prolonging the suspense. Just as the outer edge of the full moon hits the stony outcrop, the forces of nature determine that “no, not tonight”. The clouds rush in and cover the moon, which seems so close that we can see its cratered surface. Like an esoteric society that wishes to keep its practices hidden from the un-initiated, the moon vanishes behind a veil of secrecy, soon disappearing as a blurry orb behind the canyon walls. There will be no great reveal tonight.

We sit in disbelief. How can this be? We traveled so far? Expended much energy to reach this point. Why are we not rewarded? Looking around at each other, we slowly lean back, releasing the air from our lungs in one final acceptance of this reality. We stand and shrug our shoulders to one another. Slowly we begin our way down the rocky slope back to our camp.

I am the last to leave but I linger. I say a few words to the spirits of the canyon, thanking them for this experience, for allowing us into their world. I tell them we will leave them now to their own doings. A warm wind blows back into my face.

As I start back down the slope, I turn once more to take in the scene, wanting to burn this image into my memory. The faded moonlight still shines from below the horizon, enough that I can barely make out the bird-headed figure on the boulder. I half expect it to raise a hand and wave. I take a deep breath and return to my hammock slung amongst the cottonwood trees. I will not sleep the rest of the night as I lay and watch the stars revolve against the backdrop of dark sky.

Hiking Out.

As the morning sun hits the cliff face, we rise as a group and prepare for our departure. We spread out along the trail, making the arduous trek back up the side canyon we entered in 3 days before. One by one we emerge from the sandstone depths and trudge to our vehicles where we drop our packs. The world seems a different place now, refreshed with new energies. We have traveled back in time and return to the present with a greater appreciation of what we were and were not able to experience. We shake hands, give hugs and thanks to one another. We promise to return one day, hopeful that we will be worthy to witness the event that has played out for a thousand years. So be it.

Months after this epic journey I still replay the scene in my mind. I often dream about it and I am spirited away back into the canyon. In this surreal slumber, I do witness the event we were not able to see in the physical realm; the full moon hitting the stony outcrop just right, throwing a clear shadow marker directly across the spiral where the diagonal line crosses. Fall equinox has come and the ages old calendar has done its job. The passing of the seasons is noted, and the ancient people of the canyon know that it is time to prepare for the cold winter which is approaching over the horizon. I awake from these dreams and I wonder if the spirits await my return.

We journeyed to this distant location to witness what I believe is a celestial calendar. I happened upon this rock art panel on a previous backpacking trip several months before. During that trip, I could not linger long as the group I was with was more concerned with pushing on and making miles. In that brief first encounter, I immediately felt a sense of what I was looking at. I recognized its’ significance and I vowed that I would return. I was not alone. One other in that group also read between the lines and understood the meaning of these ancient, carved images. We made a promise to each other that we would again enter the depths of the canyon in the hopes of witnessing this interplay between earth and sky.

Cilff Granary.

I have spent more than a few days in canyons such as this, walking amongst high-faced sandstone walls, beneath crowns of cottonwoods whose gnarled and twisted trunks are as thick as bridge pilings. I have scrambled along slickrock terraces, pushing myself to challenges that bring me up close to numerous painted and carved images. I have quenched my thirst from pot-holes, at natural springs that pulse with life-giving water. I have held fear in my gut as I reached for hand and toe holds, with an abyss of canyon behind me. I have felt a greater sense of being alive within these landscapes, overcome with emotions that originate deep inside my being, slowly released, mixing with the energies of the ancestors, my ancestors.

During my time in these remote places, I am reminded of the history of my people, the Hopi. This history spans countless ages and is intimately connected to these lands. We believe that it is our forebearers who once dwelled within these canyons, up on the mesa tops, building cultures who would leave their “footprints” for their descendants to follow. Cliff dwellings, granaries, pottery sherds, stone tools, textiles and even their deceased ones, all remain as spiritual guardians of this holy ground. We recall these ancient histories within epic clan migrations that speak of our ancestors traveling across large geographic regions of the southwest.

Within these migrations we would learn the skills necessary to survive in a harsh desert landscape. We would develop the complex ceremonies and religious beliefs that we still practice to this day. Knowledge would be accumulated; medicine, technology, architecture, language, arts, celestial understandings to track the seasons, and ultimately, the development of agriculture.

We believe this farming tradition heralds a cultural development that would put us on the path to becoming “Hopi”. The idea of Hopi is more than just a designation of a people, but a way of life, reflected in the acceptance that corn and other crops would be the foundation of our being. The very act of farming connects us to the land. This tradition reminds us of the humble beginnings that our ancestors first sowed, meticulously developing a cultural lifeway through hardship, cooperation, humility and purposeful prayer.

Hopi Cornfield.

Yet we are also reminded that at times in our history we have strayed from these teachings, causing imbalance amongst ourselves and the natural environment. Harsh lessons that showed we are not the masters of this world, that there are greater forces that need to be respected and cared for. These are the cultural understandings I carry with me as I enter these landscapes. They are packed into my consciousness and serve to guide me as I encounter the footprints of my ancestors. These teachings also provide a unique cultural lens in which to view this ancient past.

Though I am a trained archaeologist, having spent many years learning these skills, there is only so much that the science of archaeology can reveal to me. Of course, I appreciate the beauty, craftsmanship and antiquity of the artifacts I find in my survey and documentation work. I enjoy being able to identify different classes of sherds, lithics and other material culture. This scientific training allows me to track the centuries of ancestral occupation and movements. I have filled volumes of data sheets with this understanding; completing reports that may only make sense to other archaeologists. This technical process, however, only tells one part of the story.

Two Perspectives of Culture: Archaeological and Hopi
(Graphic Courtesy Archaeology Southwest).

The scientific method relegates my ancestors to the “prehistoric”, a static western concept that is not reflective of how Hopi people view our history. Our ancestors were not defined by modern archaeological concepts such as “Ancestral Puebloan” or “Mesa Verdean” or “Chacoan”, nor were they confined by the neat cultural boundaries that archaeologists place on maps. Through a Hopi lens, the perspective of “prehistory” here in the Southwest is seen as fluid and dynamic. My ancestors moved around, they were sedentary, sometimes occupying shared landscapes, dividing social clan structures only to re-join one another in different regions, perhaps generations down the line. All of this being part of a large-scale plan, playing out over a wide geographic area, encompassing thousands of years.

We have always stated Hopi is a living culture. Meaning that the knowledge about our ancestral history isn’t just the “past” but lives in the present amongst the Hopi who retain and continue to use such cultural teachings in our daily and ceremonial lives. We view our ancestral and present-day lifeways as forever connected. Within Hopi culture is the belief that the meaning of the past is what it contributes to life in the present. This belief underscores the “cultural continuity” between modern-day Hopi and our ancestors.

How this connection manifests, often daily, is in the cultural knowledge and traditional know-how a Hopi person maintains. This knowledge is evident in many forms within traditional Hopi culture; the crops we grow and eat, the homes we occupy, the tools we use, the art we create, the ceremonies we enact and the language we speak. All of which is really an accumulation of ancestral Hopi experiences, learned over countless generations.

Alcove Dwelling Site.

According to Hopi oral tradition, many clans occupied the Four Corners area, including that of the Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa. While archaeologists have designated these ancestral people as “Archaic”, “Basketmaker” and “Pueblo”, Hopi has our own identities for these groups; Moti’sinom and Hisat’sinom, cultural concepts that encompass thousands of years of ancestry. Parts of this ancestral history, the invisible strands of genetic code and the visible evidence of material culture, subsequently made its way into the modern expressions of Hopi people. Proving this requires continued consultation and fieldwork with knowledgeable Hopi advisors.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for collaborative Hopi research, including symbolism found in textiles, rock art and ceramics. Agricultural traditions are another area of interest to Hopi. We firmly believe that the acceptance of farming by our ancestors is more than just an opportunistic event. We believe that corn, and other crops, are divine gifts, accepted by Hopi ancestors with the understanding that it would not be an easy life, but would provide longevity far into the future. When we encounter the preserved ears of corn, seeds and desiccated cobs of our ancestors, we take pride in the fact that we continue this tradition to this day, carefully guarding the knowledge of corn and how it is to be cared for. White cornmeal continues to be our sacrament, the medium in which we honor our ancestors and give offerings to a lifeway that is our right and responsibility.

Corn-Spiral Petroglyph.

Recent testing of samples of Hopi corn, conducted by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, as part of the “Pueblo Farming Project” (PFP), illustrates the cultural continuity between ancestral strains of corn and corn that is grown by modern Hopi farmers. This research states, in part:

DNA testing of 12 named Hopi maize varieties, undertaken by the PFP, show that Hopi maize is genetically distinct, although it is closely related to other temperate maize from the US Southwest. The Hopi samples are closely associated with ancient corn samples that were tested in separate studies. The studies also show that the Hopi varieties have also undergone continued selection over the past 2,000 years (https://crowcanyon.github.io/pfp_ebook/what-we-learned.html).

Another interesting area of potential study is the idea of return migrations or perhaps pilgrimages by Hopi people following the migrations of Hopi ancestors out of the area (late AD 1200’s.) This is evident by the intriguing discovery of Hopi Yellow Ware pottery in small quantities across Southeastern Utah during Pueblo IV times (AD 1290 – AD 1500). This pottery type is only made on the Hopi mesas, 200+ miles to the south and dates from AD 1300 to the present. Also, small, sandstone slab-lined features found within the Cedar Mesa area have been identified as Hopi shrines. These are affiliated with Hopi based on their selected placement upon the landscape, construction styles and orientation, which follows a pattern still used today in modern Hopi culture.

This evidence suggests that Hopi people may have returned to their former ancestral homelands, perhaps to collect various resources, as hunting expeditions, or to pay homage to shrines, villages and landscapes recalled within oral histories. Whatever the reasons, Hopi people will point to it as proof that we have retained the knowledge of our teachings and clan migrations, that Hopi ancestors were here, and their descendants are still here.

Ancestral footprint impression in mortar.

It is this type of specific knowledge that Hopi people work to maintain, not just internally within our own cultures, but also in broader “preservation of public lands” efforts. While Hopi people may not consider themselves “environmentalists” in the mainstream sense, our cultural values dictate that we respect not only our ancestral homes, but the landscapes they are found upon. The two are inextricably connected.

These are the reasons why we advocate for their continued protection and preservation. For if these tangible and intangible experiences are lost, we lose a part of our history and culture. We lose the ability to tell our future generations that we too are a part of these lands. We have a right and responsibility to continue to care for these places under the stewardship of Hopi values. That can only happen if there are these landscapes to walk among as our ancestors once did.

By joining similar endeavors by like-minded groups, Hopi people strive to help educate the American public about the need to protect these lands from large-scale, extractive activities that can harm or destroy these unique landscapes. Through the sharing of our cultural connections and respect of these areas, we hope that the same sense of respect will be given by those who come to visit and see these ancestral vestiges of Hopi history.

As I traverse these canyons, mesas and wilderness areas, I think often of this history. It enriches my experiences and surrounds me. I see it tucked into alcoves as granaries and dwellings. I find it lying on soft sand as sherds and lithics. I stand before rock art panels, intrigued by what messages it relayed to its creator and people of the time. These are the thoughts that wandered through my mind as I sat waiting for the moon to descend and cast a shadow on that chilly, fall morning, hoping that the spirits of the canyon and forces of nature would merge in one spellbound moment.

Although it did not happen that time, I will return and continue to pay my respects to my ancestors. I do so in the hopes that by acknowledging their existence, they will acknowledge mine. I follow these faint “footprints” back in time, eager to experience holy ground where spirits dwell.

I am not alone.

Atlatl Petroglyph.

“What Remains of Bears Ears” – A Washington Post article.

The Washington Post just published a great interactive article on the efforts to preserve Bears Ears National Monument.

For the Hopi, the fight to preserve Bears Ears intersects with a struggle to be recognized. Vandals may take a pot from a site because they think it’s cool, but they are looking past the reason it exists, said Clark Tenakhongva, the vice chairman of the tribe.


Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers, A Museum Exhibit

Last spring (2018) I was asked if I was interested in providing content for a museum exhibit to be show-cased in the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, Utah. The exhibit titled, “Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers” is intended to present the landscapes of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the waters of Lake Powell. The exhibit is centered around the experiences of early river runner Ken Sleight, who was an outfitter running trips in Glen Canyon during the 1950’s, pre-dam era. Ken later used his experiences to become an advocate for the protection of these natural landscapes and associated cultural resources.

I was asked by the museum staff if Hopi people have a connection to this region and if so, would I be willing to share some of that information to museum visitors? Of course I said Yes! Being a river guide myself, I have a deep respect for not only river running history, but also the natural and cultural landscapes that we travel through. It is often through personal experiences within these outdoor settings that individuals gain a very personal and emotional connection to these places. Hopefully out of these unique experiences, we all gain a deeper appreciation for these areas and continue to strive for their protection and preservation.

After consulting with the museum staff about the overall message of the exhibit, I produced the following write-up, which is displayed next to a large photo of the Smith Fork Petroglyph panel that was completely covered by the waters of Lake Powell. The exhibit recently closed at the John Wesley Powell Museum, but is now being relocated to an empty art gallery located across from Ray’s Tavern in Green River. I was honored to be involved in this project and look forward to visiting the exhibit and hopefully running the Green River for the first time!

Thank You to the museum staff for this opportunity! It is often these smaller museums that tell some of the more compelling and personal stories. If you are ever in the area, be sure and stop by the new exhibit location and check it out!

Relocated location of the “Glen Canyon: A River Guide Remembers” exhibit.
(Photo: Martha Ham)

Footprints Upon the Sandstone: Hopi Connections to Glen Canyon

For Hopi People, Glen Canyon is recognized as part of a larger landscape that contains numerous connections to our ancestral past. This is ancient land of Hopi ancestors, the Hisat’sinom, “The People of Long Ago”. For millennia, Hopi ancestors lived in this region, inhabiting the sandstone mesas, canyons and river bottom. They were among the first to experience this unique landscape and call it Home.

The tangible evidence of Hopi ancestors who lived in Glen Canyon is found within the archaeological record as artifacts; the metaphorical “footprints of the ancestors”. These include prehistoric villages, ceramics, lithics, groundstone, textiles and burials. Hopi people believe these “footprints” were left behind as physical proof that our ancestors once occupied this region.

Another connection exists in Hopi histories, songs and prayers that speak of landforms found in and around Glen Canyon; Toko’navi – Navajo Mountain, Namiqw-wunu – Rainbow Bridge, Pisis’vayu –The Colorado River and Yotse’vayu – The San Juan River. These places are associated with important events in Hopi culture. An ancient Hopi oral history details the adventures of a Tiyo, a young Hopi boy who floated down the Colorado River in a cottonwood raft, starting his journey somewhere within Glen Canyon, perhaps near Toko’navi. Hopi people claim that Tiyo was the first “river runner” in the southwest, centuries before Powell took his own journey. We keep this history alive, not just within our minds, but we know it is written upon the landscape.

Museum exhibit photo of the Smith Fork Petroglyph Panel.
(Photo Martha Ham)

In modern times, Hopi people continue to visit the Glen Canyon area. We come seemingly as any visitor. We come to boat and fish in Lake Powell. We come to hike and explore. Yet we also come to pay respect to our ancestors. We recall the history of our people who once filled the canyons with their physical presence and spiritual essence. We know that among the sandstone mesas and canyons, and even below the waters of Lake Powell, there is a landscape that contains memories of Hopi history.

Today when a Hopi person visits ancestral landscapes, we don’t simply see the remnants of a by-gone era, we see reflections of who we once were and what we have now become. We witness the artistic and technical accomplishments of Hopi ancestors, but we recall the spiritual accomplishments of our ancestors as well.

Hopi People would like that the natural landscape of Glen Canyon be restored to its former beauty; hallowed ground that is alive with the spirits of the ancestors, who remain as spiritual guardians over a Hopi Cultural Landscape.

Exhibit panels being installed in their new location.
(Photo Martha Ham)

San Juan County Commission Fails to Pass Resolution in Support of Oil and Gas Leasing on Archaeologically Rich BLM Lands — Canyon Echo

An investigative report by Reveal magazine stated recent sales in San Juan County include the “most archaeologically rich parcels ever offered for industrial use.” In 2015, the Obama administration deferred numerous leases in the area because of concerns over cultural resources.

via San Juan County Commission Fails to Pass Resolution in Support of Oil and Gas Leasing on Archaeologically Rich BLM Lands — Canyon Echo

Book Review: Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at

Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at Edited By Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, T.J. Ferguson and Chip Colwell

The origins of this book began as a session of the 2013 Society for American Archaeology conference held in honor of Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (HCPO) Director, Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma (retired). The papers resulting from that session serve as the basis for the 14 chapters of the book. The authors include HCPO staff, Southwestern anthropologists, archaeologists and ethnographers. Other contributors include members of the Hopi Cultural Resource Advisory Task Team, a group representing the three Hopi mesas, villages, and various religious societies and clans.

The “voice” of this latter group is present in every chapter of the book. They provide direct Hopi perspectives and knowledge to a wide range of issues involving archaeology, repatriation, language preservation, ethnography, and traditional farming practices, to name a few. The extent of this group’s involvement exhibits a significant change in the way Hopi chooses to collaborate with outside academic interests. This is not an easy task to accomplish. Hopi people, by our own historical experiences, have long held distrust of those who wish to conduct research on our culture.

In the forward to a previous book, Bacavi: Journey to Reed Springs (Whiteley 1988), Leigh Kuwanwisiwma (then credited as Leigh Jenkins Honheptewa), writes, “Intruders are not welcome, especially if they come dressed as anthropologists.” (1998:ix). This suspicion is the result of over 400 years of one-sided interactions between Hopi people and Western cultures, more often at the exploitation of the former, while only benefiting the latter. Reversing this sentiment would require monumental efforts, by both sides, which I believe is illustrated within the chapters of the book.

Hopi advisors offering insight on an excavated site.

Regarding the books content overall, there is no need for me to review the book chapter by chapter; suffice to say that there is a wealth of information to be learned from these writings. Another review of the publication states, “This book sets a new standard for collaborative research and provides an important example of the Hopi people controlling their own representational histories” (quoted from the jacket cover). I do not dispute that perspective. However is that enough? Is this the holy grail of “how-to” books in working with Indigenous cultures? No, it is not. Nor do I believe it was meant to be. As such, I view these works as a step in the right direction for academic research about Hopi culture and history.

I do have one, broad critical review, and that stands with the nature of the writing, clearly showing its bias as a result of a scholarly conference. At times the reader must wade through the academic mindset; anthropological theories and scientific data presented from the perspective of the well-versed researcher. That is my biggest concern regarding the information presented. Specifically, who is the intended audience? Those familiar with anthropological works of this type will find benefit. Can the same be said of the everyday Hopi individual who thumbs through these pages? Yes and No. For example, more than one Hopi cultural advisor has stated after attempting to read the book, “this was not written for us (as Hopi people).” What is the implication of that statement?

From my perspective it means there is more work to be done. Within these chapters there are insights that the average Hopi reader will identify with. The presentation of Hopi history, concepts, and philosophies resonates quite clearly as provided by the Hopi voice. This is a defining aspect of the book, presenting research “by Hopi, for Hopi.” This intent at times gets cluttered with technical jargon, but there is no need to belabor that issue. This is no direct fault of the non-Hopi authors, for they are not Hopi. We cannot and should not expect them to be fully able to present Hopi ideologies and perspectives back to a Hopi audience. This is where the collaborative efforts of Hopi authors and advisors illustrate their ability to finesse the scientific information to fit within a Hopi mindset. At times easily, other times not. There has been and will be disagreement on how this is best achieved.

Hopis conducting monitoring efforts at South Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park.


More importantly, we should not overlook the bridges that have been established through these types of collaborative works. The mere fact that this book even exists is a reflection of the effort put forth by both sides. Again, the focus should be on the willingness by Hopi cultural advisors, HCPO staff, and other Hopi individuals to become part of a solution that places Hopi research interests as priority. The various projects presented here represent well over three decades of those efforts through the HCPO. Each collaborative project builds on the preceding one, slowly increasing confidence in Hopi that the academics are sincere in their words, reflected through their actions, and ultimately their deliverables. It is acknowledged that Hopi is the driving force behind the decision to engage in research that was historically biased in the Western perspective.

Hopi people, by nature, often deliberate cautiously. Decisions are not made in haste and require extensive discussion. Our longevity as a culture dictates that we do not always need to move at the pace of the outside world, which in reality isn’t so distant anymore. Yet as shown in these chapters, Hopi has not only learned to “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk,” in the realm of cultural resource management. Hopi is now looked upon by other tribes as a leader in the work between Indigenous cultures and outside research interests. At times it is a complicated task bridging these different sets of knowledge, requiring patience as the focused examination by Hopi moves line-by-line through management plans, research proposals, and other data sets.

Returning to the statement of “this book was not written for us,” how do we address this? That I believe is the responsibility of Hopi. We are fortunate as a tribe to have a handful of individuals trained and experienced in cultural resource management. Some work for the tribe, others work for government agencies, private firms, and as independent consultants. It must be recognized that the works presented in this book have supported this reality, as many of us were trained through some of these projects and have moved on to assume larger roles and responsibilities in current endeavors. Therefore it is incumbent upon us, the Hopi involved in this work, to bring this information to the Hopi public.

This work is also a reminder of a strong precedent set by Hopi. That is, any scientific research involving the culture and lifeways of Hopi ancestors, must include collaboration with their modern Hopi descendants. Those who chose to conduct their research in isolation do so at the risk of not only missing key Hopi perspectives, but also having their work viewed as one-sided—a step back into the biased history of Western research. Hopi recognizes this is a two-way dialogue. The current relationships established between Hopi and our non-Hopi counterparts need to be respected and encouraged by those who choose to carry on this work into the future.

Crew Shot
Black Mesa Archaeological Survey Crew, 2016. Photo by Michael Terlep.

So where do we go from here? That is the work yet to be done. This book is not the culmination. Much like the epic clan migrations of Hopi ancestors, where each movement in that deliberate process resulted in an accumulation of knowledge for the greater good, the projects outlined within this book stand as metaphors—stepping stones to a greater understanding of Hopi culture and history.

However, this goal must be inclusive of the Hopi public, for it is our culture and history, and ultimately it is we who must contemplate our next “migration.” In order to do so, we must continue to build upon the efforts of those Hopi individuals who were first brave enough to step forward as willing participants in a dialogue they were not well versed in. The value of the research within this book represents many things, the most notable being a direct acknowledgment of Hopi cultural intellect and sovereignty. We are the “experts” of our own history.

As a new collective of Hopi “scholars,” cultural advisors, and community members carry on this work, these projects will reinforce the Hopi perspective that the meaning of the past is what it contributes to life in the present. In order to move forward, we must first understand where we have been. Ultimately, this book will be a testament of the respect and trust that is hard-earned and established between Hopi, and those who come dressed as anthropologists.


References Cited:

1988 Whiteley, Peter. Bacavi: Journey to Reed Springs (out of print). Forward by Leigh Jenkins Honheptewa. Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona.

Return Migrations

Origins of “Salado”. Graphic courtesy of Archaeology Southwest Magazine.

In a few weeks, Ill be leading my first Archaeology tour of 2018. We will be examining the “Salado” Cultural Phenomenon in Southern Arizona & New Mexico.

In short, the Salado Culture developed when Ancestral Puebloan migrants (i.e. Ancestral Hopi/Zuni) from NE Arizona & SE Utah migrated to points south during the end of the 1200s. Over a 200 year time span this intermix of Northern clans with Southern clans produced a unique culture that included the development of an enigmatic ceramic type known as Salado Polychromes.

When the clans of the Salado finally migrated back North, they moved to the Hopi Mesas and Zuni region. We can trace this movement through ceramic analogy, as well as through Hopi oral history, which talks of many Ancestral Hopi clans bringing cultural components from the Salado that are evident in modern Hopi Culture.

Kayenta Bird Wing Design on Salado Polychrome bowl.

A diagnostic design of these ceramics is known as the “Kayenta Bird Wing”. First originating with the Northern clans, they carried this design south with them, where it was integrated into Salado Polychromes.

Modern Expressions.

This design, and other Salado influences, will be expressed in my jewelry leading up to this tour. I will also share bits of archaeological & cultural information about this phenomenon. So Stay Tuned!

#hisatsinom #ancestralhopi #Salado #returnmigrations #kayentabirdwing #fromtheearthstudio

Hisat’sinom to Hopi: Establishing Cultural Affiliation in the Bears Ears Landscape

Hand Print & Sandal Design Rock Art, SE Utah.

As part of a 3 day hiking tour of archaeological sites in the Bears Ears National Monument (BENM), I was asked to share a personal perspective based on my experiences as an archaeologist, outdoor guide and person of Hopi descent. When it comes to the Bears Ears, issues such as preservation archaeology, tourism and Indigenous perspectives all converge upon the landscape, setting the stage for conflict, but also collaboration. While archaeological research of the Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa regions is on-going, the study of Hopi connections to these areas and the associated archaeological cultures is currently limited and lacks detailed examination by Hopi advisors.

I often pose the question of how is Hopi connected to these prehistoric groups from distant lands? What is the continuity between modern Hopi people (and other Pueblo groups) and the ancestral cultures of the Bears Ears? Seems like a valid question, given that the modern day Hopi reservation lies over 200 miles south of this part of Utah. What are the woven strands of culture that ties us back over time and space? I recall a prior conversation with a gentleman about the popularity of having one’s genetic background tested. Provide some DNA and you can see in neat percentages and cool graphics just where “your people” come from. There are a whole lot of people interested in learning more about their ancestry and heritage. Understanding your origins matters it seems.

I wonder what my percentages would be if I were to be tested? Would my test results show a pie-chart with one solid color, labeled “Hopi”? In fact, just who am I as a Hopi person? Deeper into my family history there are memories of distant lands my ancestral clans occupied prehistorically. According to this knowledge, if I were able to conduct a DNA test of myself using archaeological culture designations, I would guess my Ancestral Puebloan pie-chart slice would be larger in comparison to the Mimbres, Salado and Sinaguan slices. These cultures being representative of various geographic areas my ancestral clans once occupied and therefore, I am of these places as well.

Two Perspectives of Culture: Archaeological and Hopi (Graphic Courtesy Archaeology Southwest).

Through a Hopi lens, the perspective of “prehistory” here in the Southwest is seen as fluid and dynamic. Rather than foreign concepts such as “Ancestral Puebloan” or “Sinagua” as predecessors to modern pueblo culture, Hopi sees Moti’sinom and Hisat’sinom; cultural concepts that encompass over 2,000 years of ancestry. According to Hopi oral tradition, many clans occupied the Four Corners area, including that of the Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa. These clans brought with them various sets of knowledge that would be incorporated into Hopi culture; ceremony, medicine, technology, language and arts. The end result being the development of what we now identify as “Hopi”. The tracing of that cultural evolution is reliant on both oral tradition and the tangible evidence found within archaeological contexts.

Ceramic Spiral Applique, Circa 1100 A.D.

One Hopi perspective views the archaeological record as metaphorical “footprints” of Hopi ancestors, substantiating Hopi oral histories about clan settlements and migrations. Within Hopi culture is the belief that the meaning of the past is what it contributes to life in the present. This belief underscores the “cultural continuity” between modern-day Hopi and their ancestors. How this connection manifests itself, often daily, is in the cultural knowledge and traditional know-how a Hopi person maintains. This knowledge is evident in many forms within traditional Hopi culture; the crops we grow and eat, the homes we occupy, the tools we use, the art we create, the ceremonies we enact and the language we speak. All of which is really an accumulation of ancestral Hopi experiences, learned over countless generations.

Based on this traditional view, Hopi people firmly believe that some of our ancestral clans are represented in the archaeological record of the Bears Ears. Parts of this ancestral history, the invisible strands of genetic code and the visible evidence of material culture, subsequently made its way into the modern expressions of Hopi people. Proving this requires continued consultation and fieldwork with knowledgeable Hopi advisors. Fortunately there are opportunities for future, collaborative Hopi research, including iconography found in textiles, rock art and ceramics, as well as discussions about agricultural traditions. One interesting area of study is the idea of return migrations or perhaps pilgrimages, by more recent Hopi people. This is evident by the satisfying discovery of Hopi Yellow Wares on Cedar Mesa and surrounding areas. Faint “footprints” in the sand leading back into a recognizable landscape.

This is the meaning that Hopi people find in the Bears Ears region. Experiencing ancestral sites within natural surroundings gives us both insight and reflection; insight into the lives of our earliest ancestors, and reflection on the migrations from Hisat’sinom to Hopi.

Bears Ears Landscape

Heritage Voices Podcast: Hopivewat- Hopi Museum and Learning Center Development – Episode 10

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In today’s episode, Lyle Balenquah interviews Susan Sekaquaptewa and Marissa Nuvayestewa about their efforts to build a Hopi museum and learning center by Hopi, for Hopi. They and their team are in the thick of working on turning this idea into a reality and they break down that process in this episode. They talk about the original idea behind the Hopivewat museum and learning center and how they have been working with the community to continue to develop the idea. They particularly touch on the importance of building relationships and partnerships, selecting an organizational structure, finding resources and funding, and how to use cultural roles as a strength rather than seeing them as a challenge. This episode provides fantastic guidance for anyone looking to do community-based projects with tribes!

Click HERE to access this, and other intriguing podcasts about Archaeology, Anthropology & Indigenous Issues.

Thanks to the Archaeology Podcast Network for hosting the Heritage Voices Podcast!