The Hopi - Peaceful Ones of the Southwest
Primarily living on a 1.5 million acre reservation in northeastern
(peaceful ones) people have the longest authenticated history of
occupation of a single area by any
American tribe in the United States. Thought to have migrated
north out of Mexico around 500 B.C., the Hopi have
always lived in the Four Corners area of the United States.
the beginning they were a hunting and gathering group divided into
numerous small bands that lived in pit houses. However around the
year 700 A.D. the Hopi became an agricultural people growing blue ears of corn using
runoff from the mesas. At this time many of the small bands began to
come together and large villages began to be established atop the mesas,
the first of which at Antelope Mesa, east of present-day Keams Canyon,
Arizona. Masonry walls came into use and aboveground dwellings replaced pit houses. As the population grew agriculture became more and more important.
From 900 to 1100 A.D.
many small masonry villages appeared in the area. A subsequent drying
of the climate over the next two hundred years saw a clustering of the
area’s population into larger villages, such as Oraibi, Awatovi,
Wupatki, Betatakin and the villages in Canyon De Chelly.
Hopi House in
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
In the late 1200’s a
massive drought forced 36 of 47 villages on the Hopi mesas
to be abandoned. Following the drought the 11 remaining villages grew
in size and three new villages were established.
While Hopi located
their villages on mesas for defensive purposes, the land surrounding
the mesas was also used by the tribe, dividing it between families and
utilizing common areas for medicinal and religious purposes.
By the 16th century
culture was highly developed with an elaborate ceremonial cycle,
complex social organization and advanced agricultural system. They
also participated in an elaborate trade network that extended
throughout the Southwest and into Mexico.
society was matrilineal, with women determining inheritance and social
status and of people. When a man marries, the children from the
relationship are members of his wife's clan.
enjoyed a peaceful way of life until the first outsiders arrived in Hopi
territory in 1540. Under the leadership of Don Pedro de Tovar,
the Spanish were looking for the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. The Spaniards were not received with friendliness at first, but the
opposition of the natives was soon overcome and the party remained
among the Hopi
several days, learning from them of the existence of the Grand Canyon. When they were unsuccessful in the search for the precious metal, they
returned to Mexico but continued to maintain sporadic contact.
In 1592 the Spanish returned when Catholic
priests established a mission at Awatovi. For the next nine
decades the priests would attempt to suppress the Hopi
religion and convert the tribe to Catholicism.
From the Spanish, the Hopi acquired
horses, burros, sheep and cattle, as well as new fruits and vegetables
that were introduced into their diet. The Spanish and later Europeans also
introduced smallpox which over the centuries periodically reduced the
populations on the mesas from thousands to hundreds in devastating
In 1680 the Hopi joined the
in the Pueblo Revolt which forced the Spanish out of the Southwest.
Although the Spanish were successful in re-conquering the
were never able to firmly reestablish a foothold among the Hopi.
Following on the heels of the Spanish, the
were also under pressure from the Europeans began moving into Hopi territory
in the late 1600's. Scattered throughout the area they appropriated Hopi rangeland
to graze their livestock, farm fields and water resources, as well as
conducting frequent raids against Hopi villages. The peaceful Hopi
were forced to battle for their survival in a long period of fighting that
would last until 1824 when Spain recognized Mexico and the Hopi lands were
given to the new Mexican government. Though no longer having
to face the Spanish, the Navajo
continued to attack the Hopi until they
were forced onto reservations in 1864.
1848 the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe de
Hidalgo, once more changing the jurisdiction under which the Hopi lands
After the area became
part of the United States, white settlers began to explore the area in
greater numbers and in 1870, the U.S. government laid claim to the lands
of the Hopi. Once again, the Hopi were forced to fight to save their lands
until finally they were forced onto the reservation in Black Mesa in 1882,
where most of them still live today.
Once on the reservation,
the U.S. government spent years attempting to eradicate the Hopi culture
and religion. Children were made to go to school, men and boys were
forced to cut their hair, and efforts to convert the Hopi to
Christianity intensified. Ultimately, this resulted in the incarceration
of Chief Lomahongyoma and eighteen other Hopi Indians
being placed in
Alcatraz for their resistance to the "forced culture.” From
January 3rd to August 7, 1895, the group was imprisoned for their
resistance to farm on individual plots away from the mesas and for
refusing to send their children to government boarding schools.
In 1934 a changing tide
of sentiment towards Native Americans led to the Indian
Reorganization Act which codified the obligations of the US government to
protect and preserve the rights of Native Americans. Soon after, the Hopi Tribal
Council was formed in 1936 in an effort to establish a single
representative body of the Hopi with which
the U.S. Government could do business.
Like other Native
American tribes the
Hopi lands were
drastically reduced, their current reservation representing only 9% of
their original land holdings. Originally they occupied almost all of
to parts of Southern
Nevada. Now the
Reservation in Black Mesa, Arizona is
surrounded by the
Navajo reservation and is where the vast majority of the Hopi live
today. However, a few
Hopi live on
River Indian Reservation, on the Colorado
River in western Arizona.
Today, the Hopi, more than
most Native American peoples, retain and continue to practice their
traditional ceremonial culture. They also continue to battle the
U.S. government, as well as the Navajo tribe,
for the return of their native lands.
of America, updated January, 2015.
Hopi Ceremonial Dance, 1921
watercolor, courtesy Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa,
Hopi woman weaving in 1879. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
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