Posts Tagged 'Running'



I run because I’m Hopi

I have been running regularly for the past twelve months. This winter I found myself running in all kinds of wet and frigid conditions. Sometimes when I run, I imagine myself on the dirt trails out at Hopi, and not the city streets and paths of Champaign, Illinois. But Hopis have a long tradition of running beyond the mesas, and I like to think that this tradition still exists in the Midwest.

I am not the only one in my immediate family who runs.  My wife is an avid runner, and our daughters refer to themselves as “Hopi runners.”  They are also Irish on their mother’s side and I often remind them that the Irish are known for running long distances as well. I hope they will appreciate this more as they get older.

My daughter is already quite the runner.  I am constantly amazed by her running form and how effortlessly she makes running appear.  She and her sisters are sure to run cross-country in middle and high school.

Some people run to lose weight or to relieve stress.  Others run to lower their cholesterol or blood pressure. Although these are great benefits of running, I tend to focus less on these reasons. A friend once asked me why I run.  I simply replied, “I run because I’m Hopi, and that’s what Hopis do.”

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

Photographs of the 37th Annual Louis Tewanima Footrace

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Photographs by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

I arrived at the village of Shungopavi at 5:30 in the morning. A crowd of people gathered at the baseball field. An event volunteer welcomed everyone to the race and gave instructions to the runners.

“The 10K race will begin in 20 minutes” he announced.

A large camera and flash hung around my neck. “Hey, are you with the press?” one man asked. “No, ” I replied, “I am working on a project with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office on runners. I’m here to photograph the event.”

“The 10K race will begin in 5 minutes” the person behind the megaphone announced.

The runners gathered around the start line. The race had officially begun. Ten seconds later, the runners were gone.

I made my way to the southeast side of the village. The sun had not yet risen over First Mesa. In the valley below, a running trail etched its way through the rocky landscape.

“Any sight of the runners” I asked. “Not yet” a man replied. Everyone waited.

After 25 minutes, the first runner appeared in the distance. It was Hopi runner Juwan Nuvayokva from Oraivi. He ran with ease and strength, showing few signs of fatigue.

On the opposite end of the village 5K runners were climbing their way up the mesa. I arrived to see my father make the final push to the top.

Back at the baseball field the 1 and 2 mile fun runs had started. Children of all ages ran toward the camera.

People clapped and cheered as the youngest runner approached the finish. It was a perfect way to end the race.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

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Throughout the week I will be adding more photographs to the slideshow, so be sure to check back.

If you or a family member are pictured in the above slideshow, and you would like a high resolution copy of the photograph, please email me at sakiestewa@gmail.com. I want to also extend a special thanks to Bonnie Talakte, Catherine Talakte, and other event organizers for granting me permission to photograph the 37th Annual Louis Tewanima Footrace on Second Mesa.

A Hopi runner and his marathon trophy

Photograph by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

Most people who visit the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California, see this first place trophy without knowing who won it. Marathon officials did not engrave the athlete’s name on the trophy, but they did include the date and the event, which was the Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon held in California on December 22, 1929.

At one point in the school’s history, the student’s at Sherman Institute knew who won this award. But as time passed, the trophy, one of the largest in the Museum’s collection, became disassociated from its owner.

The trophy belongs to Hopi runner Harry Chaca from the village of Polacca on First Mesa. He was among the great Hopi runners of the twentieth century. Chaca attended Sherman in the 1920s and early 1930s and he earned several marathon honors while a student at the school.

I wrote about Chaca and his victory of the 1929 Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon in my article “Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930” (American Quarterly, March 2010). I note that prior to this event, Chaca had won other prestigious marathons and his reputation as a great runner spread far beyond the United States.

In Japan, for example, a runner named Yoshikio Sudsuki heard that Chaca was the best runner in America and so he traveled to the U.S. for the sole purpose of competing against the Hopi from Polacca. But at the 1929 Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon, Chaca’s speed and endurance proved too much for the forty-nine year old runner from Tokyo. In my article I write that the

Hopi runner ran at a “killing pace to win” the full marathon in two hours, forty-one minutes, and twenty-five seconds, a “full second better than the performance of Alpien Stenroos” in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. One of the fifty thousand spectators of the marathon recalled that Chaca’s “victory” was “all the more noteworthy for his sensational finish. After trailing for twenty-three miles it was at that mark that he applied a final burst of speed that sent him ahead” of Hopi runner Franklin Suhu. In addition to winning the race, Chaca set a new American marathon record, which immediately confirmed his place as the top long-distance runner in the nation. [p. 91]

Shortly after Chaca’s marathon victory, school officials took his trophy and displayed it in a large cabinet located in Sherman’s administration building (now the Sherman Indian Museum). According to school administrators, all individually won trophies belonged to the school.

At times Hopi students attempted to obtain their trophy cups after their terms at Sherman had expired.  During the 1940s, for example, Hopi runner Philip Zeyouma asked the school’s superintendent if he could reclaim his trophies (pictured on the front cover of American Quarterly), but school officials refused to honor his request.

More than eighty years after Chaca won the Vallejo Pre-Olympic National Marathon, his trophy remains at the Sherman Indian Museum. Although government officials consider the award to be property of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the trophy will always belong to Harry Chaca and his family.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

Behind the camera at the Oraivi Footrace

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Photographs by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

For the past five years, Juwan Nuvayokva, an accomplished Hopi long distance runner, has organized the Oraivi 8K Footrace and 2 Mile Fun Run and Walk on the Hopi Reservation. Both races begin and end in the village of Oraivi on Third Mesa.

Last summer I received permission from Nuvayokva to take pictures of the Oraivi Footrace, which was held on August 9, 2009. When I arrived at the venue, I was informed that the person scheduled to photograph the race was unable to attend, and so the organizers designated me as the “official photographer” for the event.

Some of my pictures are posted on the Oraivi Footrace website, including other photos by George Silas and Lavanya Polacca. The above slideshow includes 41 of the nearly 1,800 photographs that I took of the race.

This year’s Oraivi 8K Footrace and 2 Mile Fun Run and Walk will take place on Sunday August 8, 2010. All individuals are encouraged to participate. There will also be a new race called the 1/2 Mile Kids Dash. For more information, please visit the Oraivi Footrace website at http://oraivifootrace.com/1.html

If you are pictured in the slideshow, and you would like a high-resolution copy of the photograph, feel free to contact me and I will send you the picture via email:   sakiestewa@gmail.com

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

“Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930” (American Quarterly, March 2010)

For the past three years I have been working on a book on Hopi long distance runners and the American sport republic. Part of this project includes an article that I wrote titled “Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930.” This article recently appeared in the March 2010 Issue of American Quarterly (Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 77-101). The American Quarterly is the flagship journal of the American Studies Association.

The photograph featured on the cover of the journal (pictured above) is of two trophy cups that Hopi runner Philip Zeyouma won at Sherman Institute. I took this photo at the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California. Not long after the school established its cross-country team, Zeyouma won the Los Angeles Times Modified Marathon in April 1912. His victory also gave him an opportunity to compete in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

When Hopis such as Zeyouma, Harry Chaca, Guy Maktima and Franklin Suhu competed on the Sherman cross-country team, and Louis Tewanima ran for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, their cultural identities challenged white American perceptions of modernity and placed them in a context that had national and international dimensions. These dimensions linked Hopi runners to other athletes from different parts of the world, including Ireland and Japan, and they caused non-Natives to reevaluate their understandings of sports, nationhood, and the cultures of American Indian people.

This article is also a story about Hopi agency, and the complex and various ways Hopi runners navigated between tribal dynamics, school loyalties, and a country that closely associated sports with U.S. nationalism. It calls attention to certain cultural philosophies of running that connected Hopi runners to their village communities, and the internal and external forces that strained these ties when Hopis competed in national and international running events.

The back cover of the journal (pictured below) features a photograph that I took on the edge of Third Mesa near the village of Orayvi. At one point in the article I describe how one can stand in this location and see for miles in all directions:

To the south, the land extends beyond the Hopi mesas and the silhouette of Nuvatukiyaovi, or the San Francisco Peaks, is visible in the distance. In the valleys below, corn, melon, and bean fields stand out as green patches against a backdrop of earth and sandstone. From on top of the mesa one can enjoy the sweet smell of burning cedar, hear and feel the wind blowing over the mesa edge, and behold a breathtaking landscape surrounded by a canopy of deep blue sky. Looking east toward the village of Shungopavi on Second Mesa, running trails stretch from Orayvi like veins that connect and bring life to each of the Hopi villages. The trails near Orayvi give testimony to the tradition of running in Hopi culture and the continuance of running among today’s Hopi people. [p. 79]

I am indebted to several individuals who helped me revise this essay, including my colleagues at the University of Illinois, various Hopi and non-Hopi scholars, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, Lorene Sisquoc of the Sherman Indian Museum, and American Quarterly editors Curtis Marez, Jeb Middlebrook and Stacey Lynn.

If you would like a PDF copy of this article, please feel free to email me at sakiestewa@gmail.com, or submit a comment to this post.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

See also BEYOND THE MESAS post: Hopi runners article available for download

Hopi runners in the audience

I recently returned from attending the American Indian Studies Association (AISA) Conference in Tempe, Arizona. I delivered a paper titled “Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930.” This paper, in its article form, will appear next month in American Quarterly. I was happy to see that some Hopis came to my talk, including two students from ASU. Since I first presented on this topic, I cannot recall the last time I had Hopi long distance runners in the audience. Both of these students were runners.

After the session I talked at length with the students about how the world focuses so much attention on Louis Tewanima, but back home our people realize that while Tewanima was good, other Hopi runners were just as good or better than the famous Olympian from Shungopavi. Although these students already knew about Tewanima, they had not heard of the other runners that I mentioned in my paper. I also did not know about these runners before I started this project.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a faculty at the University of Illinois is the opportunity I have to make my research available and meaningful to the Hopi community. This has always been the driving force behind my work.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert


Copyright Notice

© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi) is Professor and Head of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Revisiting the Hopi Boarding School Experience at Sherman Institute and the Process of Making Research Meaningful to Community (JAIE, 2018)

Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010)

Introduction to Education beyond the Mesas (2010)

The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images From Sherman Institute (Oregon State University Press, 2012)

Foreward to Don Talayesva’s Sun Chief: An Autobiography of A Hopi Indian (2013)

Foreword to Kevin Whalen’s Native Students at Work: American Indian Labor and Sherman Institute’s Outing Program, 1900-1945

A Second Wave of Hopi Migration (HEQ, 2014)

Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912 (WHQ, 2012). Winner of Spur Award for Best Western Short Nonfiction, Western Writers of America (2013)

Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930 (AQ, 2010)

The Hopi Followers: Chief Tawaquaptewa and Hopi Student Advancement at Sherman Institute, 1906-1909 (JAIE, 2005)

Constitution and Bylaws of the Hopi Tribe (With all amendments, click to download)

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