In April of this year, Susan Bundock, C-SPAN’s American History TV Producer, interviewed me at the 2013 Organization of American Historians conference in San Francisco, CA. At the end of June, the interview aired on national television and streamed on-line. Bundock asked me a number of questions about Hopi and Native American history. She also asked about my family history, and the American Indian Studies Program, and Department of History, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The interview is just over 20 minutes long, and can be viewed at the following address: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/312267-6
On September 1st I traveled back home to deliver a talk on Louis Tewanima at the Louis Tewanima Footrace Pre-Race Dinner. A reporter for the Navajo Times named Cindy Yurth was present in the audience, and recently published a story about the gathering. A special thanks to Yurth for granting me permission to republish her article on my blog.
Centennial footrace draws record crowd to mesas
By CIndy Yurth
SHUNGOPOVI, Ariz. — Louis Tewanima may be the most celebrated Hopi runner, but he himself would have admitted he was not the fastest, a Hopi historian told the crowd gathered Saturday night for a celebration of the centennial of Tewanima’s bringing home an Olympic silver medal to this tiny but spectacular hamlet on top of Second Mesa.
The fastest Hopi ever was probably some unheralded farmer who never had a chance to go to school — or was forced to, as Tewanima was.
Still, Tewanima was the one who brought home the medal, and this past weekend Hopis along with well-wishers from around the world celebrated the centennial of that feat with footraces of varying lengths along some of the very trails Tewanima himself once graced.
“It was great to follow in his footsteps,” said the second-place finisher in the commemorative 10K race, 16-year-old Kyle Sumatzkuku of Moencopi and Mishongnovi. “I look up to him, even though he was even smaller than me.”
Sumatzkuku is not a large person by any means, but he’s probably correct in assuming Tewanima was smaller. Tewanima was 5-foot-4 1/2 and 115 pounds, according to Illinois University Professor Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, who gave the historical address Saturday night. In the press of his day, he was referred to as “the little Hopi redskin.”
This past weekend, though, he was everywhere. Perhaps literally.
“We believe they (the spirits of the departed) come to us in the clouds,” said race announcer Bruce Talawyma. “So he’s all around us today.”
Somewhere else, in fact, the race might have been cancelled when a torrential downpour washed out part of the trail Saturday. But Hopis, those ultimate dry farmers, know better than to scoff at moisture, even when it comes at such an inopportune time.
“That’s what we’re running for, right?” asked Sam Taylor, Tewanima’s great-nephew and one of the organizers of the race, at the pre-race carb-loading party that featured both the traditional spaghetti and a Korean noodle dish, courtesy of a Second-Mesa war bride and her churchmates. That’s a whole ‘nother story.
Running for rain was certainly the rule in Tewanima’s time. As a member of the Sand Clan, Gilbert explained, Tewanima and his kinsmen were charged with running to far away places and back to “bring back the rain.”
That could be part of why Tewanima offered to run for Carlisle Indian School even though he was dragged to the school after protesting Natives being forced to study at Western institutions — and how he ultimately ended up in the Olympics.
As for the history of the Louis Tewanima race itself, it was mostly started because the organizers — the Hopi Athletic Association — saw the need for a competitive footrace on Hopi to give Hopi runners a goal. Naming it after Tewanima was almost an afterthought, said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, who helped organize the first Tewanima Footrace in 1972.
“I’m not really sure how Louis Tewanima was brought into it,” Kuwanwisiwma confessed.
One sure thing is that the race succeeded in bringing attention to Tewanima’s feat, which may have been nearly forgotten otherwise.
“Everybody knew Louis Tewanima, just like we know everyone in the village,” explained race volunteer Kathy Swimmer of Shungopovi. “When I was growing up, him and his wife used to sit on their front porch in the morning and watch the kids load into the school bus. We just thought they were a nice old couple. I had no idea he was an Olympian until I joined the high school booster club and started helping with the race.”
After winning the silver medal, Tewanima returned to Shungopovi and never ran again except for religious reasons and pleasure.
As Gilbert mentioned in his talk, Tewanima himself knew he was not the fastest Hopi and never had been.
In the course of his research for a book on Hopi running he plans to publish soon, Gilbert uncovered a tale that he thinks sheds some light on the Tewanima era.
Apparently, Tewanima and fellow Hopi track star Philip Zeyouma, who attended Sherman Institute, were both home for a break and people encouraged them to race each other to prove once and for all which man was the best runner.
As both men appeared on the starting line in their school-issue tracksuits, the older men of the village started teasing them.
“You don’t look much like Hopi runners,” taunted one man.
“If you think you can do better, then come and show us!” challenged Tewanima.
Two 50-year-old men stepped forward.
“According to the New York Times report, they had essentially no clothes on, no shoes on, and looked like they were dying of consumption,” Gilbert said.
However, “By the time they reached the six-mile mark, those older men were so far ahead that Louis Tewanima and Philip Zeyouma dropped out of the race.”
The two 50-year-olds crossed the finish line “and just kept going,” Gilbert said.
So neither Tewanima nor Zeyouma was the fastest Hopi. And yet, Gilbert argued, they deserve to be honored, particularly Tewanima.
“This new generation of Hopi runners represented a transition in Hopi running,” the historian said.
“Whereas before people ran for transportation, and for religious reasons,” Gilbert said, “Tewanima ran as an ambassador of his people. He used running to create a privileged condition for himself at the Indian school. He used running to broaden his experience of the world.”
And as for the Louis Tewanima Footrace, “it gives testimony to the importance of running in Hopi society,” Gilbert said. “It celebrates the continuity of Hopi running.”
A record crowd of 361 runners would seem to agree.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time fishing and water skiing on Lake Powell. While having fun on the lake, one of the places that we used to visit was Rainbow Bridge National Monument in southern Utah.
On YouTube, I came across an interesting video of Hopi oral histories of the bridge. In 2009, the U.S. National Park Service conducted the interviews to mark the Monument’s 100 year anniversary. The Hopis in the video include Wilton Kooyahoema (Hotevilla), Floyd Lomakuyvaya (Shungopavi), and Rod Duwala (Oraivi).
Members of the Navajo, Kaibab Paiute, San Juan Paiute, and White Mesa Ute nations were also interviewed for this project. I have posted their segments below.
I am pleased to announce that Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010) is temporarily available for free download through Project MUSE.
It has always been my desire that people on and off the Hopi Reservation will have access to my research, and the University of Nebraska Press’s decision to allow my book to be featured on Project MUSE, is a major step in that direction.
However, free access to Education beyond the Mesas via Project MUSE will only last until January 2012. See the Project MUSE website for more details.
To download Education beyond the Mesas, please click on the above image or visit the following link: http://beta.muse.jhu.edu/books/9780803234444
Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert
Kevin Taylor wrote a very moving article in the latest edition of Indian Country Today about Hopi soldier and mother Lori Piestewa and Jessica Lynch. Earlier this month, Lynch traveled to the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Idaho to honor Piestewa at a gathering for Native veterans. Lynch talked at length about her admiration for Piestewa, and highlighted the Hopi soldier’s bravery and courage. I hope everyone who visits my blog will take the time to read this story. Here are the first two paragraphs:
The route leading to this longtime campsite amid the pines on the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho includes several miles of gravel road swooping through hilly farm country. Green with crops, it looks nothing like Iraq, but still gave Jessica Lynch a moment of flashback. “It was the dust,” Lynch says.
A car ahead of the one bearing Lynch to Talmaks Camp on Monday morning kicked up a cloud of dust that carried her back to March of 2003, when she was a 19-year-old supply clerk and private first-class in the U.S. Army driving a truck in the enormous military convoy racing across the desert to Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces. “All you were seeing was dust and sand and you had to follow the person in front of you by their taillights,” Lynch recalls. “We were exhausted and tired and hungry… ”
To access the complete article, please visit the following website: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/07/america%E2%80%99s-most-famous-pow-jessica-lynch-honors-the-hopi-woman-who-saved-her-life/
A few weeks ago I traveled with my family to San Francisco for my sister-in-law’s wedding. We stayed in a house that overlooked the San Francisco Bay. Below are other photographs that I took of that trip. The last photograph is of Alcatraz Island. When I took this photo, I was reminded of an important and difficult time in Hopi history.
In November 1894, Hopi leaders at Orayvi refused to accept U.S. government policies, including the forced removal of Hopi children to government-run schools. Consequently, officials arrested 19 of these leaders and shortly thereafter transferred the Hopi prisoners to Alcatraz Island.
Separated from their families and village community, they remained on the Island from January 1895 to September of the same year. Although I wrote briefly about this topic in Education beyond the Mesas, historian Wendy Holliday has written much more on the Hopi prisoners in a two-part essay entitled “Hopi History: The Story of the Alcatraz Prisoners.”
For those interested in learning more about the Hopi leaders who were imprisoned on Alcatraz Island, you can access both parts of this article by clicking on the following links:http://www.nps.gov/archive/alcatraz/tours/hopi/hopi-h1.htm and http://www.nps.gov/archive/alcatraz/tours/hopi/hopi-h2.htm
Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert
If you are thinking about visiting the Hopi Reservation, I would encourage you to go with a reputable Hopi tour company. One of these companies is Hopi Tours, which is led by Hopi anthropologist Micah Loma’omvaya. As I read about Hopi Tours on-line, I learned that the company has been giving tours on Hopi lands since 1540!
Of course, this was the year that Spanish conquistador Pedro de Tovar and a small group of soldiers, a few Zuni guides, and a Franciscan priest, came across the Hopi people on Antelope Mesa. After a bloody fight, and a “tour” of the villages on First Mesa, the Hopis promptly directed the Spaniards to go west toward the Grand Canyon. The Hopis did not want these “tourists” sticking around.
Today, tourism plays a very important economic role on the Hopi Reservation and it provides Hopis with opportunities to share their culture with visitors. For more information about upcoming tours, including a special book tour on Hopi Summer by Carolyn O’Bagy Davis, please download the following brochures: Hopi Tours 2011 Brochure Rates / Book Tours Hopi Summer 2011
Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert
A few weeks ago I passed along an announcement on my blog about 4 Hopi film screenings at the Museum of Northern Arizona. One of these films was Hopi Youth Return to Mesa Verde. This film examines a group of Hopis who traveled to a Hopi migration settlement called Mesa Verde in Colorado. As you watch the film, take note of the similarities that the youth bring up between Hopi ancestral ways and the practices of today’s Hopi people. Their remarks on the continuity of Hopi culture is an important theme in the film.
Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert