“I is for Indian Village” – Photographs and Hopi protocols

[UPDATE: Dec. 20, 2:36PM CST – The blog post that I refer to below has been removed from the Craftista website]

This morning I received a Google Alert that directed me to a blog called Craftista. The author of the blog belongs to a blogging group that is currently doing a A to Z meme, and so the author decided that “I” would stand for “Indian Village.” In November, the author visited the Hopi Reservation, took a picture of a village, and posted it to the author’s blog. The photo does not have a caption, but the author refers to the village as a “quaint Indian village.” The picture is of Lower Moencopi near Tuba City, Arizona. A kiva is clearly visible in the photo. About a hundred yards from where this picture was taken, a sign welcomes visitors to the village. The sign reads:


The purpose of this post is not to blast the author of Craftista for posting a photo of Moencopi on the author’s blog. Many people who visit our village do so respectfully. Rather, I want to inform people about protocols that Hopi villages ask visitors to follow and respect. Hopis established these protocols to protect their intellectual property, privacy, and to keep people from publishing photographs of village structures, shrines, and ceremonies.

The producers of BEYOND THE MESAS received permission from the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office to include old black and white photos of Hopi villages in the documentary, but we did not film or photograph exterior shots of present-day villages, kivas, or other religious sites.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

11 thoughts on ““I is for Indian Village” – Photographs and Hopi protocols

  1. In my work, I do what I can to inform writers, librarians, teachers, and publishers of statements like the one you’ve referenced above.

    Old photographs continue to be used today in books. I study children’s books, so, I am familiar with violations of the Hopi Tribes request regarding use of those old photographs.

    The most recent book I’ve analyzed is Albert Marrin’s YEARS OF DUST. There was an extended discussion of it on “Heavy Medal,” a blog at SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. Marrin’s book includes some of those photographs. If you’re interested in reading that dicussion, do an internet search using “Heavy Medal” + “School Library Journal” and then look for the post titled “Years of Dust.” The discussion started on December 7, 2009.

  2. Hello Matt,

    First of all, when I took the photo of the village, my interest was photography, not Hopi (not that it’s not interesting). My husband and I were taking picture of the scenery and saw the village by accident. Second, we did not see the welcome sign that you were referring to. If not for Lorin, we would not have known that it is an Indian village -a Hopi village. I took a picture of the village because it looked so beautiful from where were standing. The guy Lorin was very nice and we easily fell in conversation. There are several things I can post under letter I, but I chose “Indian Village” as a tribute to the kind, hospitable person that delighted us with the story of his life and his village (which he was so proud of).

    Would you rather I delete the picture of the village? My sincere apologies, I was not aware of the protocols that pertain to the Hopi village. Am Asian and relatively new here in America. It was only from Lorin that we learned of the word Hopi, how much more the protocols that govern its village.

    Thank you for taking time to inform me about your sentiments regarding this matter.

  3. Hi Tes,

    Thanks for your comments and sensitivity regarding this issue. As I mentioned on your blog, Hopis think differently about these sorts of things as well. On this particular post, I am primarily concerned about official policies that are communicated to visitors at the entrance of each village. Thanks again.


  4. Alexandra

    It is very sad that the Hopi have such a rigid attitude towards photography. Because of that, it’s impossible to find any good photographs of their villages on the Internet (except for some old b&w photos). As result, many tourists never visit the Hopi reservations because they are not publicized in any visual way.

    Thank God the Monument Valley in part of the Navajo reservation and not the Hopi reservation. Otherwise, all the iconic photos of the Monument Valley would be banned as well.

    I hope this police will change soon. It’s really reactionary.

    1. Alexandra,

      I, for one, am glad the Hopi Nation has that policy.

      It is troubling that you want to gaze at them and their villages, to photograph them. Why do you want to do that?

    2. Robert Madison

      Thank you Alexandra for your comment. My wife and I will be driving through Hopi country next year but we won’t spend a dime there on account of their dictatorial political positions.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Robert. I don’t come across many people who accuse the Hopi Tribe or village leaders of having “dictatorial political positions.” Regardless, I hope that you enjoy your visit. And yes, feel free to spend your dimes elsewhere, but I do think that you will find that the Hopi are a very welcoming people.

  5. Alexandra


    It is troubling that you want to gaze at them and their villages, to photograph them.


    When I am in Venice, I want to gaze at Venice and photograph it. And the Venetians don’t mind.

    Why should the Hopi mind ?

    1. Alexandra,

      Many thanks for your comments. Regardless if people disagree with these village protocols, or understand why such rules are in place, the Hopi people still ask that visitors respect their wishes.

      It’s also important to remember that when tourists visit the Hopi and other Indian reservations, they do so as guests of that sovereign Indian nation. These nations have their own systems of government, with laws and policies that may or may not exist outside reservation boundaries.

      In 1997, and then again in 1998, I had the good fortune of traveling to Venice. Since officials did not post signs throughout the city that prohibited visitors from taking photographs, I freely took hundreds of pictures. However, these types of signs are placed at the entrance of Hopi villages.

      In other entries on my blog, I have written more about the reasons why Hopis put up “No Photography” signs. The title of these posts are “Misrepresenting the Hopi with Photos” and “Tourists, Cameras, and Hopi Privacy.”

      Thanks again for your comments. I would imagine that there are many others who are of the same opinion as you.

  6. Kathleen Pace Papenfuss

    I was thrilled to see your name as I was seeking information about the church that had the mission on the side of the hill between upper and lower Moen Copi (that is the spelling that was used when I lived in Tuba City. I’m assuming that your father or since I’m so old, your grandfather worked at the Babbit Trading Post in Tuba City. He was I believe a brother-in-law to LeRoy. I don’t remember his first name, but in my memory he lived next to the Sakiestewa home in Tuba City. I went to grade school with LeRoy and David Sakiestewa and played with them often. I lived in the last house on the west side of the road next to the road to the three reservoirs. I remember one time we had been playing a board game and “little” David
    I do not remember LeRoy’s father’s name, but I know he was a painter besides all the other things he did.
    I have only been able to return home there two different times. I talked with LeRoy on the phone the last time I was there. Since he is the same age as I – I wonder if he is still living – I feell very ancient, even though in good health.
    It is wonderful to see the work being done to create work for the young people on the reservations as well as to the keeping the traditions of the Hopi alive so they can remember their heritage.
    The last time I was there, I went to the Navajo museum, and as I told LeRoy they certainly had mixed up the traditions of the Navajo with those of the Hopi. If he is still living, please tell him “hello” from an old friend.
    Kathleen Pace (Papenfuss)
    2210 Primrose Ln.
    Nampa, ID

  7. MathLady

    While I was on a visit to the village, I was told about the policy and left the camera in the car below. It was explained that the Hopi believe in capturing the memories in your mind. I still have those memories and did not mind adhering to the policy at all. We still patronized the shops and I had wonderful conversations among the people that I met there. I learned a lot about the culture to admire.

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