[The following post includes the first few pages of a new book that I am writing entitled Modern Encounters of the Hopi Past]
Introduction – One More for the Hopi
When I was a young scholar, I had the opportunity to speak with Hopi elder Emory Sekaquaptewa, who at the time was professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I had traveled to campus to interview for a faculty position in the Department of American Indian Studies, and he graciously took time out of his busy schedule to visit with me. He inquired about my family, and I shared with him school records that I uncovered about his father at the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California.
He spoke to me as my elder. He was gracious, welcoming, and kind, but he was also very direct. He seemed disappointed that I wanted to return to Arizona so early in my career, explaining positive reasons for our people to spend time away from home. We discussed several topics during our visit. But there was one that proved especially meaningful to me and serves as the intellectual energy behind this book: “I want to write a history book with you that we can use back home,” he said to me, “for our teachers and students.”
Emory knew the significance for Hopi people to write their own history. And he knew the importance for Hopi scholars to share that knowledge with a wide audience, including those in our village communities. Emory had grown up in the village of Hotevilla on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. His willingness to receive an education beyond the mesas and teach at a university, paved the way for other Hopi academics such as myself. He showed us how to excel at a research institution. And he demonstrated the importance for us to meet scholarly expectations while remaining closely connected to home.
Having navigated the world of our people and that of an American university, Emory was familiar with the academic and cultural terrain that lay before me and other Hopi scholars. He realized that for us to excel in the academy, we needed to publish our work. And he knew that for me to succeed as a Hopi historian, I needed to provide research that was meaningful and useful to my people.
The co-author of books and numerous articles, Emory also understood the power of the printed word, and of its ability to carry the Hopi voice to a diverse and sometimes unexpected audience. Not long after I started working at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I taught a class on Native American religious traditions. Among the readings that I assigned to my students was a chapter by Emory entitled “One More Smile for a Hopi Clown.” In it, Emory explains the meaning of clowning in Hopi culture. He describes in great detail skits between the clowns, katsina dancers, and spectators in a village plaza.
The drama unfolding in the plaza and on the pages of Emory’s chapter captivated the minds of my students. Emory likely never imagined that forty years after he published the essay, students and a Hopi professor in Illinois would be contemplating his every word. He took us with him to a different world, a world of Hopi ceremony, laughter, and clowning. He forced us to consider the value of lightheartedness and the role of humor and self-awareness. And through story and by his example he taught us to not take life or ourselves too seriously. For as Emory so aptly reminds us, the “heart of the concept of Hopi clowning is that we are all clowns.”
To be continued…
A great short video on the Hopi high school cross country team. Coach Rick Baker explains running in Hopi culture and the world of modern XC competitions.
Over the years I have amassed a large collection of books on the Hopi. My bookcases give evidence of this obsession.
Even as I write, I am looking at these books, and they are looking back at me. Some are on Hopi religious ceremonies, language, and history. Two of them I wrote.
Still others are biographical accounts, written during a bygone time in American history. Regardless of topic or genre, they are a reminder of those who came before and after me.
A canon that I have contributed to and have grown to appreciate. A foundation that I have built on, but that has also shaped and built me.
Carpenters have their saws and chisels.
Well, we have our books.
[On October 8, 2018, I had the honor of introducing Charlene Teters of the Spokane Nation before she gave her keynote address on Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the University of Illinois. The following post is my introduction with citations. For a newspaper story on the event, visit The News-Gazette.]
It is wonderful to see so many students, faculty, staff, and those from within and outside of the Urbana-Champaign community as we participate in the university’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration.
Thank you for being here.
My name is Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert. I am the Director of the American Indian Studies Program and Professor in the Department of History
I have the privilege of introducing our keynote speaker, Charlene Teters.
Over the years, I have been called on to introduce many individuals on this campus, but this occasion is different.
Today I have the honor to introduce someone who’s life as an artist and activist has meant a great deal to the American Indian Studies Program and to the University of Illinois.
A member of the Spokane Nation of Washington, Charlene Teters is Professor of Art and Academic Dean at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Throughout her long and distinguished career, Dean Teters has had her art featured in more than 20 major exhibitions; she’s received an honorary doctorate from Mitchell College in Connecticut; and she has served as a founding board member of the National Coalition on Racism and Sports in the Media.
Some 30 years ago, Dean Teters left the College of Santa Fe to pursue an MFA degree in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois.
While a student here, Dean Teters embarked on a lifelong pursuit of combating misappropriations of Native culture and the use of Native imagery for school mascots.
At the Uof I, she encountered both.
Her story and experiences on this campus have been well documented in Jay Rosenstein’s film In Whose Honor, various books, and in hundreds of newspaper articles
But for me and many other Indian people, her activist work was never truly about an image or dance taking place on a football field, but about her struggle for human dignity and Native humanity, a concept she so powerfully captures in 7 carefully chosen words:
“American Indians are human beings,” she’s been known to say, “not mascots” [Santa Fe New Mexican, Oct 10, 1997, 1].
Time does not permit me to share more about her accomplishments as an activist and artist, of which they are many.
However, there is one part of her life that I want to highlight and end my brief introductory comments with.
Artists are often asked what inspires them to create the work that they do. No doubt Dean Teters has been asked this question hundreds of times.
But even early in her career, it was clear that Dean Teters’ inspiration as an artist was deeply rooted in her American Indian community, her family, and in her identity as an indigenous woman.
“My father’s special ability to create visual feelings through color and canvas awakened a magical desire in me that has remained to this day,” Dean Teters remarked the year before she enrolled at Illinois, “Understanding of spiritual relationships came from my uncle, and from my grandmother came stories from the past and a deep appreciation for being a Native American woman.” [Rapid City Journal, April 10, 1987, V-2]
Please join me in welcoming back Dean Charlene Teters of the Spokane Nation.
Delivered by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, October 8, 2018
[The following land acknowledgement was part of a keynote address I gave at the Annual Celebration of Diversity Breakfast at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The event, which had over 400 people, took place on November 9, 2018. Over the years, people have approached Indigenous land acknowledgements in various ways. This is how I did it, and I am hopeful that my approach will be of some help to others.]
You are on Indian Land
Good morning everyone. It is great to be here. I am so honored by this opportunity.
I was told earlier this week that I had about 8 minutes at the mic.
And so in true Hopi fashion, I am going to keep my remarks short and sweet.
In recent months, officials and others on campus have started their public gatherings (including this gathering) by reading an official statement that acknowledges the Indigenous people who were the traditional stewards of these lands — the lands we now collectively refer to as the state of Illinois.
It is a wonderful statement, and I am grateful for those across campus who helped create it, including my colleagues Nichole Boyd, Jamie Singson, Elizabeth Tsukahara, Dr. Rusty Barcelo, and many others.
This morning I would like to talk about what is at the heart of this statement, but to do so in a way that reflects who I am as a Hopi person, a Native historian, and as one who has lived and worked on these lands for the past twelve years.
I hope you don’t mind me doing so.
My former graduate advisor Clifford Trafzer at the University of California, Riverside, once began his Native American history textbook with the following words:
“Wherever you are in the Americas, you are on Indian land.”
It is difficult, I think, for those of us who work and study at the University of Illinois to remember or even understand that the land beneath our feet is “Indian land.”
We look outside the windows from our offices or places of work and we see both old and modern buildings. We walk on the pathways of our beautiful Quad, enjoy the nicely cut grass, and hear chimes from the Altgeld Hall Tower.
Little, if anything, on this campus reminds us that we are on Indian land.
But we are.
Long before French explorers encountered Native people on these lands in the 1600s, Indigenous people were here. Some of these people included the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, Miami, and Odawa, among others.
And long before the federal government forcefully removed a number of these tribes to places such as Kansas or what was then referred to as the Oklahoma Indian Territory, the people considered these lands their home.
It was here among the tall grasses, flowing rivers, natural springs, and rolling meadows where the aforementioned tribes learned about and understood their identity as Indigenous people.
Their origin and migration stories tell of these lands, and give their communities meaning and purpose in life.
Back on my ancestral lands in the American Southwest, far from the corn and soybean fields of central Illinois, the land also gives testimony of the ancient ones.
Our many ceremonial sites, including our sacred mountains and springs, and places unknown to the outside world, remind my people of those who came before us.
“We were once great travelers,” elders back home have told me, “a people who ventured out and put our marks upon the country from the Pacific to Central America and beyond.”
Again, “Wherever you are in the Americas, you are on Indian land.”
Well known Lakota scholar and thinker Vine Deloria, Jr. once remarked that “American Indian people are a people of time and a people of place.”
It is tempting, I know, for us to only associate this “place” (or these lands) with Native people of the distant past.
But these lands have always been closely associated with their original caretakers (notice that I used the word “caretakers” and not “inhabitants”), regardless if a university or any individual acknowledges this reality.
The land has memory, and it still speaks to us. The question, of course, is whether you and I are willing to listen?
Again, thank you for the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you this morning.
I especially want to extend a heartfelt thanks to Assistant Vice Chancellor Gioconda Guerra Perez, Chancellor Robert Jones, Provost Andreas Cangellaris, and Dean Feng Sheng Hu in the College of LAS.
The fact that I am standing before you today gives testimony to our current administration’s commitment to American Indian people and issues on campus. And it demonstrates the vital role Indigenous people – and yes, all people – have in creating and maintaining a truly diverse and inclusive Illinois.
Delivered by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert at the Annual Celebration of Diversity Breakfast, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, November 9, 2018