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A Rainbow of Spirituality


History of the Hopi People

Our continual occupancy of the area since 500 A.D. gives Hopi people the longest authenticated history of occupation of a single area by any Native American tribe in the United States. Yet most of our tutsqua has been expropriated. At 1.6 million acres, the modern Hopi Reservation is a mere 9% of the original tutsqua. People have used the Four Corners area for about 10 thousand years. Yet not much is known about the first 8 thousand years except that the people hunted locally available animals and gathered wild plants.

Beginning in about 1 A.D. an identifiable culture developed over the next 700 years. The Hopi call these people Hisatsinom (People of Long Ago) although the public and archaeologists refer to them as Anasazi or San Juan Basket makers.

By about 500 A.D. the Hisatsinom had learned to make pottery and developed elaborate pit houses of increasing size. By 700 A.D. they were cultivating corn, beans and cotton and settling down to a more sedentary life in small settlements of two to five pit houses. They occupied a vast territory stretching from the Grand Canyon to Toko'navi (Navajo Mountain), toward the Lukachukai Mountains near the New Mexico/Arizona border, and south to the Mogollon Rim.

At about 700 A.D. the first substantial presence in the Hopi mesa area was established on Antelope Mesa, east of present-day Keams Canyon. Masonry walls came into use and above ground dwellings replaced pit houses.

From 900 to 1100 A.D. many small masonry villages appeared in the area. A subsequent drying of the climate over the next 200 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.

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 increased population saw three new villages established.

While Hopi located their villages on mesas for defensive purposes, the villages were by no means the entirety of Hopi territory. Land surrounding the mesas was divided between clans and families while certain areas were held in common for medicinal and religious purposes. The Hopi established boundary markings hundreds of miles away from their villages to demarcate their ancestral homeland and use area, called the tutsqua. It is estimated that the tutsqua once covered over 18 million acres.

By the 1500's 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 first outsiders to arrive in Hopi territory were Spanish explorers in 1540 under the leadership of Don Pedro de Tovar. Unable to find the legendary Seven Cities of Gold the Spanish returned to New Mexico. They maintained sporadic contact with the Hopi until 1592 when Catholic priests established a mission at Awatovi. The priests spent the next nine decades attempting to suppress Hopi religion and gain Catholic converts.

Contact with the Spanish did have some positive aspects however. Over this period the Hopi acquired horses, burros, sheep and cattle. New fruits and vegetables 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 Mexcio in the Pueblo Revolt which forced the Spanish out of the Southwest. Although the Spanish were successful in reconquering the pueblos of New Mexico they were never able to firmly reestablish a foothold among the Hopi.

Following on the heels of the Spanish, Navajos began moving into Hopi territory in the late 1600's. They distributed themselves throughout the area to graze their livestock and appropriated Hopi rangeland, farm fields and water resources. Navajos also conducted frequent raids against Hopi villages.

Hopi fell under Mexican jurisdiction in 1821 after the Mexican War of Independence. This lasted until 1848 when the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo. Hopi territory became part of the ever-expanding United States.

Although whites were exploring Hopi territory before 1848, during the 1850's and 1860's contact became more frequent as numerous government surveyors, investigators, missionaries and Bureau of Indian Affairs employees began exploring the area. Contact between the Hopi and the US Government continued sporadically until 1870 when the first Hopi Indian agent was appointed, followed in 1874 by the establishment of the Hopi Indian Agency in Keams Canyon.

In 1882 President Chester Arthur established a 2.5 million acre Hopi Reservation through Executive Order. This was followed by many years of effort to eradicate Hopi culture and religion and take their land. Children were made to go to school, men and boys were forced to cut their hair, efforts to try and convert Hopi to Christianity intensified, and attempts were made to allot their land even though traditionally no Hopi can own land.

Tension between those Hopi who accepted white ways and those who tried to resist them culminated in a devastating split in the village of Oraibi in 1906.

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.

While the Tribal Council represents Hopi people in matters external to the tribe, Hopi villages maintain quasi-independence. Of the 12 villages only 1 has adopted a constitution and established a truly western form of government. The remaining villages vary in the degree to which they adhere to the traditional Hopi form of governance. Oraibi remains strictly traditional in its governing structure and does not accept funds or any other form of assistance from the Tribal government. Other villages merge traditional with western governing policies by maintaining a village Kikmongwi (chief or leader) but also having representatives on Tribal Council.

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