[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 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
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!
I am excited to announce that I will be leaving the University of Illinois soon to begin a new appointment as Professor and Head of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona!
After 13 years at the UofI, I am finally making my way back to the Southwest and closer to family and the larger Hopi community.
I will be leaving wonderful colleagues and friends in the American Indian Studies Program and the Department of History, terrific students, and a very supportive College and campus administration.
But I will be joining a highly respected and established AIS department, a community of outstanding faculty and students, and a university (and program) that I have always wanted to work at.
Needless to say, I am thrilled to be making this run for the desert and taking part (once again) in the second wave of Hopi migration.
I am pleased to pass along the Preface, Acknowledgments, and Introduction to my book Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain between Indian and American, compliments of the University Press of Kansas. Click image to download.
Also, for those who might be interested, the University Press of Kansas is currently having a 30% off sale (and free shipping) on all books, including Hopi Runners. The sale will last from now until December 15, 2018. Use promotion code HOLI30 when you make your order. The discount and free shipping brings the cost down to about $20 for the book.