Hopi Tribe to Navajo Councilman Bennett: Let It Go!



A Hopi Perspective on Diversity in Anthropology & Grand Canyon. Presented by Heritage Voices Podcast & The Anthropology Podcast Network


This episode is part two of the Grand Canyon National Park miniseries. Today we interview Heritage Voices co-host Lyle Balenquah, Hopi archaeologist, ethnographer, educator, advocate, and river guide extraordinaire about his background, diversity in Anthropology, and Hopi connections to the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon topics include the proposed Greater Grand Canyon National Monument, the Desert View Watchtower project, river running, and diversity in interpretation.




Book Review: Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat’ovi Massacre. By Author, James F. Brooks

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

Introducing “Heritage Voices” Podcast, with Jessica Yaquinto & Lyle Balenquah.

This episode introduces the podcast, why it was created, and what you can expect. Co-host Lyle Balenquah, Hopi Archaeologist and educator, interviews host Jessica Yaquinto about her work as an ethnographer and in tribal consultation. Topics include mediating between tribes, community based participatory research, tribes’ perspectives of anthropology, and the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, etc.

Hopi Tribe Celebrates Bears Ears National Monument Proclamation 

Bears Ears Landscape


For Immediate Release December 29, 2016

Kykotsmovi, Ariz. – Today Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman G. Honanie applauds President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) under the Antiquities Act of 1906. This is a landmark decision culminating a broad collaborative effort between conservation groups, federal and state governments and five tribal groups including Hopi, Zuni,Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute and The Navajo Nation.

For the Hopi Tribe, the Bears Ears represents a “cultural landscape” that contains pristine wilderness areas; canyons, mesas, deserts, forests, springs, streams and rivers. These lands provide much needed refuge for the flora, fauna and birds found here. All of which are inextricably connected to the longevity of Hopi history and ancestors in this region. This history includes the earliest inhabitants, the Archaic and Ancestral Puebloan cultures.

These Hopi ancestors, the “Hisat’sinom” (People of Long Ago), imbued this landscape with their presence in the hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites located within the new monument. These sites represent the “Footprints of Hopi Ancestors” and include ancient villages, migration routes, artifacts, petroglyphs and the physical remains of buried ancestors. All of which are remembered and maintained through oral tradition, pilgrimage, songs and prayer.

From the beginning, the Hopi Tribe has supported this endeavor through formal tribal resolution and consultation, sharing of traditional knowledge and educating decision-makers about the Hopi connection to this culturally important area. The President’s designation is a direct response to the Hopi Tribe’s desire to have this landscape protected and preserved for future generations of all to enjoy and learn from.

San Juan River Rock Art.

The Hopi Tribe is pleased to see that the President’s Proclamation calls for direct tribal involvement with the long-term management of the monument. “The concept that Tribes will finally be afforded actual, substantive decision making authority versus mere consultation is unprecedented, We hope the Federal Government looks to this innovative model in the future when considering monument designations as they relate to other First Nations.“ said Chairman Honanie.

This co-management will ensure that Hopi concerns, traditional knowledge and use of the area is maintained and respected. The Hopi Tribe is dedicated to ensure that there will be a continuation of the unprecedented collaborative efforts that lead to this positive step in public lands conservation.

The Hopi Tribe commends President Obama for setting a high standard of public lands policy, one that places priority on the preservation of wilderness, as well as priority of the values of groups who hold these lands with reverence. The Hopi Tribe moves forward with dedication and willingness to work with our tribal neighbors, conservation groups and federal and state agencies in the establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Through these continued efforts, the Hopi Tribe hopes to ensure that future generations of Hopi people have their own cultural ground to stand upon; providing them the opportunity to interact with their ancestral past of the Bears Ears as we have done since time immemorial.


Obama: Make The Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument A Reality.

A recent op-ed I helped write in collaboration with the Hopi Tribes Office of the Chairman and Congressional Representative Grijalva.

By Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Herman Honanie

The Hopi tribe considers the Grand Canyon a place of origin, a spiritual home and sanctuary of cultural tradition. The tribe’s history and culture cannot be separated from it. For generations the entire community has considered the Canyon hallowed ground. Few issues unite the tribe like the continued preservation of the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area, and that’s why today the Hopi strongly support the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. President Obama should use his power under the Antiquities Act to establish this monument and protect this sensitive land while there’s still time.

Hopi ancestors left behind abundant and tangible proof of their existence here. These footprints of Hopi history include ancient villages, migration routes, artifacts, petroglyphs and the physical remains of buried ancestors. These are remembered and maintained through oral tradition, pilgrimage, song and prayer. Among the many other values a well-preserved Grand Canyon provides the people of this nation and our entire planet, these culturally important places must be protected to ensure Hopi people can continue to interact with their ancestral past. This interaction forms a living connection between Hopi people, their ancestors and the Grand Canyon itself, which is just as important today as it has ever been.

This connection continually reminds Hopi of the responsibility to preserve essential qualities of life: clean air and water, unspoiled wilderness — and the peace of mind that comes with knowing future generations will enjoy these same gifts. The Hopi tribe is aware these qualities are under continued ecological threat from uranium mining, unregulated development, loss of old-growth forests and the degradation of watershed areas. The Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument will end those threats and protect one of the world’s greatest unspoiled natural areas once and for all.

When the balance of nature is disrupted, especially by something as dramatic as the construction of a mine or the diversion of a river, the landscape cannot simply be put back together as it once was. Such impacts negatively affect not only the natural and cultural values of the Grand Canyon region, but the spiritual values that are at the heart of Hopi tradition.

That’s why Chairman Honanie hand-delivered a letter to President Obama in April urging him to establish the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument before he leaves office. It applauded his efforts to recognize and preserve culturally important Native American sites around the country and asked him to “afford the Hopi, and all other Tribal Nations that hold the Grand Canyon as sacred, the same respect and dignity by bestowing Monument status on the Grand Canyon watershed.”

The Hopi tribe is firmly committed to working with presidential staff, congressional representatives, federal, state and local agencies in the development of this monument. In doing so, the tribe will rely on its traditional values of humility, cooperation, dedication and mutual respect. These values are the foundation of its unified call for the protection and preservation of lands that remain as important to the Hopi cultural landscape today as they have been for centuries.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Herman Honanie is the chairman of the Hopi tribe.


Spirit of Place: Preserving the Cultural Landscape of the Bears Ears

Spirit Within

1200 A.D.

Dawn breaks over a secluded canyon, spreading a sliver of orange light along the rim as a lone canyon wren welcomes the morning, singing another day into existence. As the light increases in intensity, it illuminates a sheer cliff face, revealing layers of geologic time; ancient cross-bedded sand dunes and million-year old ocean floors that contain the fossilized remains of creatures whose descendants now inhabit salty seas hundreds of miles away. The colors of the stone facade warm into a kaleidoscope; red, orange, pink, yellow, tan, brown, purple, each one blending into the other as if a giant brush of watercolors was swept across the surface. At the final moment of reveal, the sunlight works its way to the canyon bottom where at the last precipice of stone, an alcove appears. At first as an arch of darkness, then as its interior starts to glow with reflected light, the details of the alcove come into view.

Inside, a cluster of structures stands, some 2-stories tall, tiny T-Shaped doorways peer out into the world. Built of stone, mortar and adobe, the protruding roof beams begin to cast long shadows against the coursed masonry. The human occupants of this small village, the Hisat’sinom (“People of Long Ago”) are already beginning their day. Men collect their tools and set off to tend to fields spread out in the canyon bottoms or to embark on hunting trips on the mesa tops above. Women gather together, teaching their daughters the fine art of creating intricate baskets and ceramics decorated with the metaphors of their existence; clan lineages, epic migrations and silent prayers for moisture and long life. Here and there, children, turkeys and dogs fill the spaces with their cries, laughter and energy.

This canyon and beyond is their world. A brief moment of time in which they create an understanding that is embedded in the existence of experiences. Seasons pass and the revolutions of the sun, moon and stars signal times of growth, harvest, ceremony and celebration. Old ones are laid to rest with reverence, while young ones are welcomed in to fill the voids. All the while, the people continue on in their journeys, building upon knowledge of previous ancestors, each generation adding their own energies to a collective knowledge as they face an uncertain future.

Ancestral Hopi Pueblo. San Juan River, UT.

All across the area known today as the Bears Ears, this scene plays out in canyons, mesa tops, and river bottoms in thousands of similar ancient villages. For millennia, the ancestors of modern Hopi people lived in this region, refining the practical know-how and spiritual energy that allowed them to not only exist, but thrive in a seemingly harsh environment. This knowledge and experience would be passed from generation to generation, ultimately culminating and expressed in the contemporary culture of Hopi people, reflecting a connection that spans thousands of years across hundreds of miles.

Eventually the revolutions of the earth out distance the early inhabitants, all that is left of their passing are their ancient homes, tools, textiles, ceramics, jewelry and images carved and painted upon the cliff walls. In some cases, the physical remains of revered family are interred within and around the structures, left as spiritual guardians of a holy space. These are the tangible remains of their existence, ones that we can see and in some cases, touch and feel with our own hands; while some are experienced in the relative comfort of museums, archives and research centers across the country.

Others, if we are lucky enough, are encountered in our own wanderings across the same landscapes the Ancient Ones once called home. Under the same sun, moon and stars they once gazed upon, we can hold in our hands the results of thousands of years of living within a natural world. For many of us, Indigenous and otherwise, this is still the case and we are afforded the opportunity to glimpse into their being.

Yet there is another aspect of this landscape that cannot be readily seen or touched by our human hands. This is the Spirit Of Place. It is expressed as the solitude of the evening sunset as the winds sigh a relaxed breath, the sudden rush of excitement watching a falcon pursue its prey across the grasslands, the overwhelming expression of humility as we gaze upon stars, planets and other celestial bodies in the dark night sky. All of these experiences are afforded us due to the landscapes of the Bears Ears remaning in a relative pristine condition. The open space of the canyons, mesas, deserts, forests, springs, streams and rivers remain connected to one another and to those wild things of earth, water and sky that call this place home. These landscapes are not broken up into islands of refuge, as is the case with so many areas due to the encroachment of human development upon the natural space.

Comb Ridge Sunset


This is the spirit the Ancient Ones also witnessed. Compelling them to record their expressions of those experiences upon the cliff faces, conveyed through the beauty of their arts and remembered in story, song and prayer. This is the legacy that modern Hopi descendants still carry with them. The connection to this ancestral spirit still resonates in the contemporary culture of Hopi people. It is a connection that transcends both time and space, so that as a Hopi person enacts their own ceremony, both public and private, they are recalling the hardships and accomplishments of their ancestors.

The history of Hopi people is recorded upon the landscapes of their ancestors. Thus the maintaining of Hopi culture is more than merely an act of writing down these events and places, it must encompass the actual preservation of those places where the ancestors dwell.

An important aspect of Cultural Preservation, from the Hopi perspective, requires that one be able to experience the natural settings of their ancestors; to be able to journey back to those places and see first-hand how their ancestors lived. To walk among the centuries-old homes where generations lived, to hold in their hands the pieces of art created by hands of distant relatives, to sit upon towering buttes and recognize landscapes that are recalled from prayer. For modern Hopi people, our oral histories contain the memories and essence of Hopi ancestors and these histories remain viable aspects of Hopi culture.

Being able to actually experience our ancestral landscapes aids in the understanding of what a “Cultural Landscape” really is. In an age when Indigenous oral histories are continually challenged as viable source information, at least for some in academia, the need to preserve our histories becomes paramount. This includes not just the oral histories, but the actual, for-real-life sites where our ancestors lived. Granting future generations of Hopi to follow their ancestor’s footprints across the landscape.

Ferguson and Kuwanwisiwma write (2004),

Ancestral villages that have fallen into ruin are not dead places whose only meaning comes from scientific values. The Hopi ancestors who lived in these villages still spiritually occupy these places, and these ancestors play an integral role in the contemporary Hopi ceremonies that bring rain, fertility, and other blessings for the Hopi people and their neighbors throughout the world. ‘Itaakuku’ ­­–footprints –are thus a part of the living legacy of the ancestors, and they play a vital role in the religious activities essential to the perpetuation of Hopi society.

In essence, by acknowledging our ancestors existence, they acknowledge ours through the answering of our prayers. This understanding provides a continual connection between modern Hopi people and their ancestors. This connection is contained within the landscapes, wherein Hopi ancestors interacted with their natural environments, leaving a legacy behind that their descendants must now strive to continue.

3 At Rest: Hopi Ceremonial Regalia

The Bears Ears movement is about more than just preservation for preservation sake; more than drawing a line on a map to protect a fragile ecosystem from the development of the fossil-fuel industry. It’s about more than protection of archaeological sites from wanton vandalism or preservation of these sites for solely scientific purposes. It’s about the protection of Indigenous cultures so that we retain our ability to pass on our traditional knowledge to future generations. Protection of this landscape grants us the opportunity to share with the outside world that we are more than historical footnotes, to show that our connections to ancestral lands traverse distance and time. Only through these continued efforts will future generations of Hopi people have their own cultural ground to stand upon; providing them the opportunity to interact with their ancestral past as we have done since time immemorial.

At the heart of this unified tribal effort is a call for Respect. Respect for a landscape that holds the spirit and essence of Indigenous history and culture. One can imagine that it is 100 years from the present day, at a canyon not unlike the one described in the opening lines of this writing. At the rim of the canyon, a few moments before the sunlight graces the sandstone cliffs from the eastern horizon, here stands a small group of unified tribal members. They have gathered to witness the same scene experienced by those early families. They have gathered to pay their respects, as a lone canyon wren sings the day into existence, to offer reverence and say to their ancestors, We Are Still Here.

Butler Wash Petroglyphs, UT

For more information on how you can support this unified tribal endeavor, follow the link here: The Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition is led by Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes and supported by 25 other tribes.

When All The Trees Are Gone….


Recently I read an article in which an Indigenous man was asked why he opposed the continued logging of the pristine forests on tribal lands, despite the fact that this logging provided much needed jobs and income to his communities. He replied, “When all the trees are gone, we will be just like everybody else”. I had to think about what he meant, read between the lines and get to a deeper understanding of his words. What was it that he was trying to say?

After further reading, it was apparent that what he was conveying is the inherent connection to the land that sustained his people for generations. It was the forest and all that it held that made them who they are. If those forests disappeared, then what becomes of the people, their identity and culture? Do they then cease to exist?

This type of connection is one example of a Cultural Landscape. In essence, it can be defined as “We are Who we are, because of Where we are”. As Indigenous people who have lived and occupied our traditional lands for millennia, we literally become a part of that landscape. Our stories, songs, ceremonies and prayers are born out of and shaped by those experiences and interactions.


When that landscape is destroyed, then what do we become? Do we become what that Indigenous man stated, “like everybody else”? Again, what does that mean? I think what he meant is that we eventually fade into the masses, losing our self-identity in the process. Disconnected from our roots, we become lost, searching for that which made us, never fully realizing that we had a hand in our own turn-about.

Yet we still have the ability to avert that outcome. We still have the chance to afford our children, grand-children and many generations down the line, the opportunity to prove that they can be smarter than we are. That they can use their own ingenuity, knowledge and faith to make better, wiser choices about preserving their own Cultural Landscapes. In order for that to happen however, we must leave them with something to preserve. We need to ensure that they do not fade into the masses with no sense of who they are, because we left them with no sense of where they are.

Until recently, I was working on a project and I wrote about the need to protect and preserve such a Cultural Landscape (http://wp.me/p6Oja1-bO), however my statements ruffled feathers and I was asked to refrain from making such comments. Out of respect for those involved, I removed myself from the project. I did so also to maintain my own sense of well-being as its never healthy to censor one’s own feelings and intuition (yet I cannot help feel that I abandoned my co-workers).


I am definitly torn about my decision. Still the struggle continues and we must find other ways to preserve a future identity for our own children and those who come after. We have the opportunity to leave them with an identity that is still rooted in the landscapes of our ancestors.

When all the trees are gone, who will we be?


Walking The Line at Nayavu’waltsa: Preservation of a Cultural Landscape (Intro)


In the Hopi language, Nayavu’waltsa is a place name, meaning “Clay Gap Place” and refers to the region known as Black Mesa, located in Northern Arizona. This mesa of the high desert is a geologic uplift of the much larger Colorado Plateau which covers a large area of the 4 Corners region; Southeastern Utah, Western Colorado, Northwestern New Mexico and Arizona. The Northern edge of Nayavu’waltsa ends abruptly, looming several hundred feet above the valley below and from a distance rises like a dark shadow; a vanguard of time, space and culture.

If you were to stand on one of its many vistas and look North, you would catch far-off views of Monument Valley to the Northwest, the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains in Southwestern Colorado and to the East, the landscape fades into the Chacoan homestead of Northern New Mexico. Surrounded by pine and fir tree forests, if you turned to the opposite point of the compass, the land gradually slopes away to the Southern escarpments of Black Mesa, some 60 miles as the crow flies. The vegetation transitions to juniper, pinyon pine and sage brush flats where eventually you find the Hopi villages, perched atop mesas where we have lived for over 1,000 years. Here, Nayavu’waltsa ends and gives way to the Little Colorado River valley, with the outline of Nuvatak’yaovi, the San Francisco Peaks, on the horizon, rising to 12,000 feet in elevation.

It is in this landscape that finds 6 archaeologists, 3 Hopi tribal members and 3 contractors, who for 8 days have been conducting archaeological survey up on Black Mesa. We have endured the still stormy spring weather that is common in Northern Arizona. Facing rain, snow, hail and lightning, turning the ground into a slip-sliding mess of clay, true to its Hopi name. This first session was our introduction to a landscape that many of us as archaeologists have heard, read about and studied in our academic training. It is a fabled land in archaeological history. An origin and stronghold of a prehistoric culture first known by the foreign name of “Anasazi” (a word of navajo language) and now re-labeled as “Ancestral Puebloan” (a term that still lacks the true reflection of who these people were, and who they later became).

Black Mesa Crew, 2016. Photo by Michael Terlep.
Black Mesa Crew, 2016. Photo by Michael Terlep.

This is ancient land of Hopi ancestors, the Hisat’sinom, “The People of Long Ago”, inhabited since Time Immemorial we would say. The science of archaeology states that human use and occupation of the area extends back 10,000 years. Back to a time when Hopi ancestors were pursuing mega-fauna such as mastodon, bison and other large game, hurling spear points as long as my hand at these great beasts. Although the traces of those times are difficult to discern in the archaeological record, the spirit of that history continues to be felt as one gazes out on the distant horizons. I wonder if those very early people would recognize this land as it appears now? In between the mega-hunters and today, many other Hopi ancestors have passed through and lived upon this landscape, leaving behind the traces of their existence.

One of the more unique aspects of the Hopi ancestors who lived here, are the ceramics they created, beginning as early as 500 A.D., over 1,000 years ago. Pottery types such as Tusayan Corrugated, Tusayan Whitewares, Polychromes and many others can be traced to this region and nearby areas as a “birthplace”. Here the early potters refined these various styles which would become synonymous with Black Mesa and were traded far and wide across the Southwest.

In our survey work we come across numerous outcroppings of clay, of various colors and textures. During our lunch and dinner conversations, we wonder if these sources were once gathered by Hopi ancestors in making their pottery. We encounter the broken sherds by the thousands, some showing experimentation of style and design, mixture and variation as these artisans developed what would become the “diagnostic” or tell-tale signature of these ceramics. As one of my fellow archaeologists stated, “these families were creating these styles, there were no rules, they could do whatever they wanted”.

Generations later, descendants of these early potters would migrate hundreds of miles south, to the deserts of central and southern Arizona and New Mexico. They would take with them their designs and techniques, lending their genes and creativity to the birth of a new culture, the Salado. There they would establish new villages, developing yet another set of ceramics, Roosevelt Red Ware. After a few generations, these groups would once again migrate, this time back north to Hopi and Zuni, completing their migrations (a topic for yet another blog).

Black Mesa Ceramics
Black Mesa Ceramics

The immediate purpose of the Class III archaeological survey we are conducting is to identify and record the “footprints” of Hopi ancestors; ceramics, lithics, architecture and any other tangible evidence found within the archaeological record. The area we are working in is located at the far northern edge of the Hopi reservation (approx 1.6 million acres). The survey section is an area approximately 2,000 acres and is leased by the Hopi Tribe to Peabody Western Coal Company, which has been strip mining coal in the Black Mesa area for well over 40 years. In fact, the presence of large coal deposits are what give Black Mesa its name.

The overall purpose of the survey is to provide data for inclusion in a future Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). An EIS is meant to be a “full disclosure” public document, and will determine whether or not Peabody can continue mining operations in this section. This area is one of the last within Hopi leases, while other lease areas exist on Navajo Reservation lands, literally across the fence. Although the ultimate decision has yet to be made about future mining in this area, it is no secret that Peabody covets the coal deposits in this area, despite their recent plunge into financial bankruptcy. Thus there is subtle, yet noticeable pressure to have this survey completed and the EIS process begun.

Black Mesa Landscape.
Black Mesa Landscape.

Some may argue that it is necessary to allow Peabody to continue mining on Hopi lands, given that a large portion of the Hopi Tribe’s operating budget relies on the royalties generated from mining activities. If the mining stops, where will the money come from to keep the Tribe afloat? They may argue that it is an example of Tribal Sovereignty at work, showcasing this as a process of Self-Determination. In one sense, this is all true.

While I do not wish to delve into the economic outlook of the Hopi Tribe (at least right now), I will agree to a point that this is one example of Self-Determination & Tribal Sovereignty. Yet from my perspective, this example is an out-dated one, relying still on outside influences and decision-makers to bring about the results. Energy entities such as Salt River Project (SRP), Navajo Generating Station (NGS) and Peabody Western Coal Company all have a hand in this process and in one way or another, use their political and financial resources to influence the outcomes.

Natural seams of coal and other mineral deposits found near the surface.
Natural seams of coal and other mineral deposits found near the surface.

However, and let me be very clear on this issue, this survey is not about granting “clearance” to allow continued mining. In the first place, that is not what Cultural Resource Management is about. There is a mis-conception that archaeologists somehow wave a magic wand and grant the “OK” for a project to move forward. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we do as archaeologists is provide real in-field data and information to enable decision-makers in government (in this case the Hopi Tribal Council and other elected officials) to hopefully make informed decisions about proposed development. Yet as archaeologists, at the foundation of our training and intentions, we carry a philosophy of preservation and protection, which can have various manifestations and results (more on that in later postings).

GPS unit showing transect lines
GPS unit showing transect lines

As the rain, snow and hail fall around us, we walk survey transects, spaced 15 meters apart, looking for the footprints of Hopi ancestors. In addition to these prehistoric signs, we are also looking to identify the more recent and modern evidence of Hopi use. This land is a living part of Hopi culture and as such, there are places that remain actively used; shrines where offerings are deposited, gathering areas for minerals and plants, and trails that are remembered in history, song and prayer. These we record as Traditional Cultural Places (TCPs), a designation that seeks to encompass their meaning beyond the science of archaeology. Included in this documentation is ethnographic information collected by knowledgeable Hopi persons representing various clans, societies and villages. Thus our field survey combines not only archaeological data, but that of the “living culture”, providing a dual perspective that strives to be holistic and respectful of Hopi ancestors and their modern descendants.

Ancestral Cairn Marker.
Ancestral Cairn Marker.

As we continue our survey work, I hope to present not only insight into our discoveries, but I also to use this as an attempt to provide for a greater call to preserve this cultural landscape. We are all too aware of the negative side-effects of strip mining; contamination of groundwater, loss of wilderness, the erasing of Indigenous histories off the map. If mining operations are allowed to continue, not only will we lose the rich archaeological and cultural history, but also the immense bio-diversity found in this area, including pristine forests that are hundreds of years old.

Ultimately, as we prepare to head off for another 8 day field session, I view this and future blog posts as one way to educate the reader on what we stand to lose. That if anything, beyond our culture, this maybe the only “thing” we preserve in our lifetimes that we pass onto future generations. Only time will tell….

Storm on the Horizon
Storm on the Horizon

For additional information see: https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-black-mesa-syndrome/