Book Review: Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at

Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at Edited By Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, T.J. Ferguson and Chip Colwell

The origins of this book began as a session of the 2013 Society for American Archaeology conference held in honor of Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (HCPO) Director, Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma (retired). The papers resulting from that session serve as the basis for the 14 chapters of the book. The authors include HCPO staff, Southwestern anthropologists, archaeologists and ethnographers. Other contributors include members of the Hopi Cultural Resource Advisory Task Team, a group representing the three Hopi mesas, villages, and various religious societies and clans.

The “voice” of this latter group is present in every chapter of the book. They provide direct Hopi perspectives and knowledge to a wide range of issues involving archaeology, repatriation, language preservation, ethnography, and traditional farming practices, to name a few. The extent of this group’s involvement exhibits a significant change in the way Hopi chooses to collaborate with outside academic interests. This is not an easy task to accomplish. Hopi people, by our own historical experiences, have long held distrust of those who wish to conduct research on our culture.

In the forward to a previous book, Bacavi: Journey to Reed Springs (Whiteley 1988), Leigh Kuwanwisiwma (then credited as Leigh Jenkins Honheptewa), writes, “Intruders are not welcome, especially if they come dressed as anthropologists.” (1998:ix). This suspicion is the result of over 400 years of one-sided interactions between Hopi people and Western cultures, more often at the exploitation of the former, while only benefiting the latter. Reversing this sentiment would require monumental efforts, by both sides, which I believe is illustrated within the chapters of the book.

Hopi advisors offering insight on an excavated site.

Regarding the books content overall, there is no need for me to review the book chapter by chapter; suffice to say that there is a wealth of information to be learned from these writings. Another review of the publication states, “This book sets a new standard for collaborative research and provides an important example of the Hopi people controlling their own representational histories” (quoted from the jacket cover). I do not dispute that perspective. However is that enough? Is this the holy grail of “how-to” books in working with Indigenous cultures? No, it is not. Nor do I believe it was meant to be. As such, I view these works as a step in the right direction for academic research about Hopi culture and history.

I do have one, broad critical review, and that stands with the nature of the writing, clearly showing its bias as a result of a scholarly conference. At times the reader must wade through the academic mindset; anthropological theories and scientific data presented from the perspective of the well-versed researcher. That is my biggest concern regarding the information presented. Specifically, who is the intended audience? Those familiar with anthropological works of this type will find benefit. Can the same be said of the everyday Hopi individual who thumbs through these pages? Yes and No. For example, more than one Hopi cultural advisor has stated after attempting to read the book, “this was not written for us (as Hopi people).” What is the implication of that statement?

From my perspective it means there is more work to be done. Within these chapters there are insights that the average Hopi reader will identify with. The presentation of Hopi history, concepts, and philosophies resonates quite clearly as provided by the Hopi voice. This is a defining aspect of the book, presenting research “by Hopi, for Hopi.” This intent at times gets cluttered with technical jargon, but there is no need to belabor that issue. This is no direct fault of the non-Hopi authors, for they are not Hopi. We cannot and should not expect them to be fully able to present Hopi ideologies and perspectives back to a Hopi audience. This is where the collaborative efforts of Hopi authors and advisors illustrate their ability to finesse the scientific information to fit within a Hopi mindset. At times easily, other times not. There has been and will be disagreement on how this is best achieved.

Hopis conducting monitoring efforts at South Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park.


More importantly, we should not overlook the bridges that have been established through these types of collaborative works. The mere fact that this book even exists is a reflection of the effort put forth by both sides. Again, the focus should be on the willingness by Hopi cultural advisors, HCPO staff, and other Hopi individuals to become part of a solution that places Hopi research interests as priority. The various projects presented here represent well over three decades of those efforts through the HCPO. Each collaborative project builds on the preceding one, slowly increasing confidence in Hopi that the academics are sincere in their words, reflected through their actions, and ultimately their deliverables. It is acknowledged that Hopi is the driving force behind the decision to engage in research that was historically biased in the Western perspective.

Hopi people, by nature, often deliberate cautiously. Decisions are not made in haste and require extensive discussion. Our longevity as a culture dictates that we do not always need to move at the pace of the outside world, which in reality isn’t so distant anymore. Yet as shown in these chapters, Hopi has not only learned to “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk,” in the realm of cultural resource management. Hopi is now looked upon by other tribes as a leader in the work between Indigenous cultures and outside research interests. At times it is a complicated task bridging these different sets of knowledge, requiring patience as the focused examination by Hopi moves line-by-line through management plans, research proposals, and other data sets.

Returning to the statement of “this book was not written for us,” how do we address this? That I believe is the responsibility of Hopi. We are fortunate as a tribe to have a handful of individuals trained and experienced in cultural resource management. Some work for the tribe, others work for government agencies, private firms, and as independent consultants. It must be recognized that the works presented in this book have supported this reality, as many of us were trained through some of these projects and have moved on to assume larger roles and responsibilities in current endeavors. Therefore it is incumbent upon us, the Hopi involved in this work, to bring this information to the Hopi public.

This work is also a reminder of a strong precedent set by Hopi. That is, any scientific research involving the culture and lifeways of Hopi ancestors, must include collaboration with their modern Hopi descendants. Those who chose to conduct their research in isolation do so at the risk of not only missing key Hopi perspectives, but also having their work viewed as one-sided—a step back into the biased history of Western research. Hopi recognizes this is a two-way dialogue. The current relationships established between Hopi and our non-Hopi counterparts need to be respected and encouraged by those who choose to carry on this work into the future.

Crew Shot
Black Mesa Archaeological Survey Crew, 2016. Photo by Michael Terlep.

So where do we go from here? That is the work yet to be done. This book is not the culmination. Much like the epic clan migrations of Hopi ancestors, where each movement in that deliberate process resulted in an accumulation of knowledge for the greater good, the projects outlined within this book stand as metaphors—stepping stones to a greater understanding of Hopi culture and history.

However, this goal must be inclusive of the Hopi public, for it is our culture and history, and ultimately it is we who must contemplate our next “migration.” In order to do so, we must continue to build upon the efforts of those Hopi individuals who were first brave enough to step forward as willing participants in a dialogue they were not well versed in. The value of the research within this book represents many things, the most notable being a direct acknowledgment of Hopi cultural intellect and sovereignty. We are the “experts” of our own history.

As a new collective of Hopi “scholars,” cultural advisors, and community members carry on this work, these projects will reinforce the Hopi perspective that the meaning of the past is what it contributes to life in the present. In order to move forward, we must first understand where we have been. Ultimately, this book will be a testament of the respect and trust that is hard-earned and established between Hopi, and those who come dressed as anthropologists.


References Cited:

1988 Whiteley, Peter. Bacavi: Journey to Reed Springs (out of print). Forward by Leigh Jenkins Honheptewa. Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at – Angles & Momentum – Hopi Culture, Language & Arts

  2. Excellent diplomatic review of a new Hopi content publication. To write “for Hopi by Hopi”, we need to understand and learn non-oral systems of technology. From the womb time, we only hear sounds and learn our worldly experience orally in the Hopi language. To read writings in Hopi or English, we switch to another way of thinking and processing of Hopi ideas. So access to the written word is how we can now communicate “for Hopi by Hopi”. Publishing a book is not accessible to the common Hopi individual. What established publisher is out there to help the Hopi people make this transition to the written word?


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