Hopi land – it’s like magic in a bottle, you want to experience it but you don’t want to be intrusive.
It’s dry out there… which is good since Hopis are some of the best dry farmers in the world.
The Hopi reservation is remote and its smack dab in the middle of the Navajo reservation, which is kind of a cruel joke … since historically Navajos and Hopis don’t get along. Getting to Hopi means you have to drive through the Navajo reservation first. From pretty much any starting point, it’s a good 50-100 miles to Hopi from the Navajo rez line. Determining where each nation’s land starts and ends goes way back. The issue still makes its way into tribal council today. For Hopi and Navajo the land is sacred. It’s more than just a patch of dirt in the desert. Their ancestors spent generations on the land sacrificing and fighting for their inheritance.
I spent most of my life passing through these reservations. To this day I am still struck by the harsh solitude and strong features it possesses. The land is like a beautiful woman – full of natural grace and dignity. She knows she’s beautiful and you want to bask in the glow of that beauty. It’s a slower pace on the rez, both of them. When you cross the rez line time slows down and you suddenly appreciate the striking balance of curvy corners and jagged edges. Pure magic.
Every time I visit Hopi my heart is both more and less full. The people, culture and land possess such beauty but there is also some undeniably deep rooted, emotion jerking issues threatening to swallow up the nation. I am excited and terrified for the future of people living on reservations.
Speaking to the current chairman and vice chairman of the Hopi Tribe and all the candidates running for these positions and mingling with the locals gave me a new perspective on what is happening on Hopi.
I’m a journalist. Part of my job is to help bring to light some of these issues and talk to the people who are living their realities in these areas.
You see, my visit to Hopi land was not for idle curiosity or sightseeing. I came with a mission and I had two days to achieve it. First stop was the Hopi Tribal Complex in Kykotsmovi, just across the Hopi/Navajo border.
When visiting the reservation, always be sure to ask a local for directions. Even if you know where you’re going, trust me, you want to ask for directions. If you want to experience the culture get directions from a local. It will probably go something like this … “you’re driving from Flag? Oh, yeah, well, you’re probably coming up Route 2 … so what you want to do is stay on that road for about 50 miles until you get to milepost 145. Wait, I live at 149, so let me count backwards … 148, 147, 146 okay, so around milepost 145 or 146 you will see a sign saying ‘Welcome to Kykotsmovi’ you want to turn left and go across the cattle guard and follow that about a mile. You’ll go past red flags and some people selling crafts – don’t mind them, keep going. Then you’ll pass a little store and if you come to some people’s houses you’ve gone too far. You want to look for a two-story, white building. You should be able to see it pretty good. If that doesn’t work you can go around on Route 267 and turn at the other ‘Welcome to Kykotsmovi’ sign ….”
Make sure you write everything down.
The Hopi Tribal Complex is the only large, two-story official looking building on the entire reservation. My mission over the next two days was to interview all 4 candidates running for chairman of the tribe and the 3 candidates running for vice chairman. Easy, right? Not exactly, but two days later I drove home exhausted and successful.
My interviews took place on the doorsteps of the tribal building, in the middle of the market with people purchasing their lunches all around, over breakfast in the only restaurant in a 40 mile radius, and finally in an air-conditioned office with leather armchairs and silver name plates. There’s some striking contrasts on the rez.
One question to the candidates was ‘In your opinion, what are the two biggest issues facing the Hopi Tribe?’ Responses ranged from dwindling revenue sources and lack of education opportunities to transportation issues and the current crisis of drug and alcohol abuse. There are no jobs on Hopi, at least none that will keep the tribe afloat. The eminent closure of the Navajo Generating Station – one of Arizona’s top producing coal refineries accounting for 80 percent of the tribe’s revenue. They are getting ready to be in the middle of a huge financial crisis. They know it and they know they have to address how they plan to fix it since there is currently no back up plan. The generating station was not supposed to close, that wasn’t in the cards. Now there will be fewer jobs and less money unless someone comes up with a solution, real quick like. Good luck candidates. The drug, alcohol and domestic violence on the rez is an issue. It needs to be addressed. Then there’s transportation – or the lack of it. If you can’t get a job on the rez and you don’t have money to buy a vehicle to get to work elsewhere, you’re running into a dead-end.
I went in ignorant and walked out overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and feeling desperate. I drove home with music blaring in my ears, trying to space out before I sat down and processed some of the information and experiences I had just walked away from.
The issues and topics all need addressed but the real underlying issues are much deeper, reaching back to an age-old question of how to bridge two cultures.
The council is desperate to find solutions that will take their people into the 21 century while still maintaining their culture, traditions and beliefs. They can not afford to lose their identity, their language or their customs.
It comes down to asking how to merge modern ideas with ancient traditions. It hardly seems fair for an entire culture to watch modern society’s forward momentum while they must choose to merge past and present for the very survival of their identities. This question strikes home for me. Being half Navajo and half white, I know what it means to be stuck in the middle where choices between family loyalty and cultural identity have to be made. My struggle is small in comparison to the struggle of an entire nation.
When I visit Hopi I make sure I stay long enough to breath in the cool, night air and watch the stars twinkle. Because, despite the issues facing this land and its people, I must believe there is a solution. There has to be – there’s magic on Hopi land.
Every time I visit Hopi my heart is both more and less full. My heart aches for them all.
Hopi land – it’s like magic in a bottle, you want to experience it but you don’t want to intrude.