Recently I was asked to submit a review of this book for the publication, Kiva: The Journal of Southwestern Anthropology and History, which is published by the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society. This is my unedited submission.
Awat’ovi has experienced its fair share of research, both by the archaeologists’ trowel and the historians’ pen. Upon learning that a non-Hopi researcher had published a book about the Awat’ovi history, I had doubts regarding the intentions of such a book. Would it present new insights? Who among the Hopi community were involved in the research? Would it be another sensationalized account of the tragic events that occurred? More importantly, who was the intended audience? It is no secret the events at Awat’ovi are uncomfortable, unsettling and stand in stark contrast against what “Hopi” represents: cooperation, humility, nonviolent action and respect for all forms of life. It is a traumatic event that for many Hopi is viewed as a private matter; social healing from this history is an on-going process among the Hopi community.
A review of this book requires an examination from a wider perspective of both the researcher and those being researched. Myself, being a person of Hopi descent with degrees in Cultural Anthropology and a subsequent career as a professional archaeologist, I have experienced both ends of the research spectrum. Admittedly due to these circumstances, I carry certain insights and biases with me. Ultimately, my review also takes into account the process in which the book was researched and produced.
Mesa of Sorrows relies largely on previous research, including early Spanish documents, ethnographic and archaeological reports and to a very limited degree, insights from still-living Hopi people. As such, much of the book is spent on historical review, including early Spanish encounters with the Pueblo people of New Mexico and Arizona, and how this history influenced the Hopi attitude towards the Spanish. The Awat’ovi excavations conducted by the Peabody Museum in the 1930s also receive attention. This discussion of the archaeological record gives insight into how the Spanish altered Hopi material culture, including architecture, in their attempts to convert the residents of Awat’ovi.
As an historical overview, this is the strong point of the book, especially for those who are new to the history of Hopi and Awat’ovi. It serves as a good jumping off point for those interested in pursing more about these subjects, with numerous references and footnotes to give direction. Brooks highlights a recurring theme in Hopi oral history, that being of external and internal strife that leads to division within the community, resulting in acts of contention, expulsion, violence, and in some cases, the taking of human life. Illustrating this theme, Brooks weaves together his research into a story that at times reads more like a popular mystery novel than a strict historical account. Brooks is no doubt a talented writer, avoiding use of academic jargon and theory allows the book to appeal to a wide readership.
That being said, I found the retreading of previous research does little to present new insights, unless one is new to this subject matter, which I assume is the audience this book is intended for. The author’s inclusion of Hopi oral histories, many recorded over a century ago, only serves to highlight a glaring omission; that being the voice of the modern Hopi people who represent a “Living Culture”. This lack of a contemporary Hopi voice is a reflection of the level of consultation Brooks conducted with the Hopi tribe prior to the books publication. Again, in reviewing this book it is necessary to do so from the context of what defines “Informed Consent and Research” among Hopi and other Indigenous communities.
The first notice the Hopi Tribe received of the books publication came through an announcement on social media. Subsequently, officials from the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (HCPO) requested Brooks come present his book to the Hopi public, tribal officials and to the Cultural Resource Advisory Task Team (CRATT). CRATT is a long-standing advisory group comprised of knowledgeable Hopi elders from various villages, clans and religious societies. They provide consultation on a wide array of issues, including that of on-going scientific inquiry. In addition, the Hopi Tribe has in place its own established protocols of Informed Consent and Research.
During this meeting, Brooks stated that he had previously sent a draft of the book to the tribe but did not receive a response. Granted at the time, tribal officials were embroiled in a much larger issue, that being the auction of Hopi religious and ceremonial items in Paris, France. Thus the social media notice of the books publishing came as a surprise to tribal officials. Although Brooks offered copies of his now published book to those in attendance at the tribal meeting, the gesture did little to reconcile the fact that many tribal officials felt that an important step in the consultation process was overlooked.
Among tribal concerns is a precedent implied by this book, that tribal input should not be a priority for research conducted by outsiders (or “insiders” for that matter). The consultation process as carried out by the Hopi Tribe offers the opportunity for a collaborative effort between outside researchers and tribal members. It entails more than a simple “yes” or “no”, approval or denial of research projects. Meaningful consultation is a reflection of good-faith efforts to present research that has benefits beyond that of the researcher. For decades the Hopi Tribe has extended this hand of assistance, with varying degrees of success. If the author had approached the Hopi Tribe seeking consultation on this topic, would the tribe have objected? That is a possibility. Would the Tribe have offered ways in which to collaborate on the issue? Again that is a possibility.
The generalized nature of this book misses a key opportunity to include contemporary Hopi thinking about Awat’ovi, instead presenting only a reiteration of already documented “facts”. Perhaps the author’s intentions all along were an attempt to side-step controversy by relying on what had already been printed about Awat’ovi. From the Hopi perspective, it is difficult to understand why one would choose to write about such a tragic event. By excluding modern Hopi perspectives, whether intentional or not, only proved to Hopi people that outside researchers feel they do not have to seek Hopi involvement.
One undisputable truth remains, the Awat’ovi event is an extremely traumatic point in Hopi history, one that continues to affect Hopi people and is manifested psychologically among the Hopi community. These effects (i.e. Historical Trauma) are largely ignored within this book which does little in assisting the Hopi people towards healing from the Awat’ovi event. A point not overlooked or taken lightly by those who attended the meeting between the author and tribal officials. Note: the issue of “Historical Trauma” as related to Awat’ovi and other historical events is thoroughly examined in other publications, most notably, Moquis and Kastiilam: Hopis, Spaniards and the Trauma of History, Volume 1, 1540-1679 (Sheridan, et al, 2015). This body of research represents an on-going collaboration between the Hopi Tribe and scholars.
Brooks stated to tribal officials he hoped to work on a second edition of his book, offering to further consult with the Hopi tribe in this effort. His offer was half-heartedly acknowledged by tribal officials and advisors, perhaps a case of too little, too late. Overall, this book will appeal to those who have a general interest in Hopi history and culture. Yet for Hopi people, the book is viewed as another intrusive inquiry they did not ask for. In the end, the author concludes his story and walks away, leaving a still traumatized Hopi population to deal with the repercussions of this history, perhaps with a renewed distrust of academic research. One reviewer of the book states (as printed on the back jacket cover), “James Brooks writes beautifully, and he writes for all of us”, unfortunately, I don’t think that audience included the Hopi themselves