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The Hopi - Peaceful Ones of the Southwest

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Primarily living on a 1.5 million acre reservation in northeastern Arizona, the Hopi (peaceful ones) people have the longest authenticated history of occupation of a single area by any Native 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.


In 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 Arizona.

Hopi House in Arizona.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!




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 the 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 the Hopi 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.

The Hopi 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.

The Hopi 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 epidemics.

In 1680 the Hopi joined the Puebloans of New Mexico in the Pueblo Revolt which forced the Spanish out of the Southwest. Although the Spanish were successful in re-conquering the pueblos they were never able to firmly reestablish a foothold among the Hopi.


Hopi Indian Pueblo, Oraibi, Arizona

Hopi Indian Pueblo, Oraibi, Arizona, vintage postcard


Following on the heels of the Spanish, the Navajo, who 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.


In 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo, once more changing the jurisdiction under which the Hopi lands were governed.


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 northern Arizona, from California to parts of Southern Nevada. Now the Hopi 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 the Colorado 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.




Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January, 2015.



Source:  The Hopi Tribe


Hopi Ceremonial Dance

Hopi Ceremonial Dance, 1921 watercolor, courtesy Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Hopi woman weaving in 1879

Hopi woman weaving in 1879. This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!



Also See:

Pueblo Revolt

Ancient Puebloans of the Southwest

Native American (main page)

Native America Photo Print Galleries


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