[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…
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.
The award is presented annually by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies and the Western History Association. I received the award last week at the Western History Association conference, which was held at the Westgate Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
This would not have been possible without the support of many people over the years who encouraged me as I wrote and completed the book. To them, I extend a heartfelt Kwakwha!
Education beyond the Mesas has been nominated for NAISA’s first best book in Native and Indigenous Studies prize for 2010. Regardless of the election outcome, I am honored by this nomination and grateful for your support. If you are a member of NAISA, you can vote for one of several great first books (including my colleague Vince Diaz’s book Repositioning the Missionary) at the following website: http://naisa.org/election-2012
Just so you know, the election ends April 2, 2012, at 23:50 PST. The winner will be announced at this year’s NAISA conference at Mohegan Sun in Uncaseville, CT (June 3-6, 2012).
On Friday October 28 at 4PM, the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois will host a book reception in the Author’s Corner (2nd floor) of the Illini Union Bookstore. I am scheduled to talk about Education beyond the Mesas. My AIS colleagues, Jodi A. Byrd, Vicente M. Diaz, and Robert Dale Parker, will also present on their publications. The gathering is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. For those who live in the Champaign-Urbana area, it would be great to see you at this event!