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The Hopi Nation

As my Hopi professor has called it before, “Hopiland” is located in the mesa country of northeastern Arizona surrounded by the Navajo Indian Reservation.  The Hopi village of Old Oraibi on Third Mesa (there are three mesas in all,) is the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States.  The Hopi Nation, or Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, meaning “the peaceful people” or “peaceful little ones,” are regarded as “Pueblo Indians.”  “Pueblo” means “town” in Spanish; this term is derived from the town-like multi-unit adobe dwellings present in a number of Native American villages of the Southwest.  I could not find a functioning, official Hopi Nation website, but if you are interested in learning more about the Hopi tribe, you can visit the Hopi site on the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona.

Hopi Pottery

Hopis made pottery, as did other cultures, to help them prepare and store food.  In addition to being containers that helped with practical daily tasks, pottery such as marriage vases, were made for more special occasions.  Today,  you can purchase and collect beautifully crafted and decorated Hopi Pottery.  The Palms Trading Company that I mentioned in my last blog sells several different kinds of Hopi Pottery.  If you are interested in reading about or purchasing these pieces you can visit the Palms Trading Company website.

Below are a few examples of the Hopi Pottery sold by the Palms Trading Company:

Hopi Traditional Pot

Artist:  Donna Robertson

Hopi Kokopelli Wedding Vase

Artist:  Carla Nampeyo

Hopi Nona Naha Pot

Artist:  Nona Naha


One of the most rewarding parts of this blog project has been receiving positive feedback, encouragement, and advice from you readers.  I recently got a comment from Palms Trading Company, a company that sells “Native American Pottery, Jewelry and Rugs.”  This couldn’t have occurred at a more opportune time, as I planned to spend the next few blogs talking about Navajo Rugs and Hopi Pottery— both items this company sells.  I appreciate that this company is a proud IACA member, dotes on having supportive relations with Native American tribes of the Southwest, and even includes a section explaining “Authenticity” of Native American art and crafts.  I want to display a few of the items for sale on this site as I talk about Navajo Rugs and Hopi Pottery.

The Navajo Nation

Beauty before me, I walk with.

Beauty behind me, I walk with.

Beauty above me, I walk with.

Beauty below me, I walk with.

Beauty all around me, I walk with.

Navajo Night Chant

The Navajo Nation (or Diné as they sometimes call themselves,) extends into the states of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.  “Diné,” the original name of the Navajo, means “the people.”  Visit the official site of the Navajo Nation,to learn more about them.

Navajo Rugs

I read Bess Liebenson’s article in the New York Times about “Reading Into Navajo Rugs.”   In this article, Liebenson interviews the Bruce Museum in Greenwich’s collection manager and curator of “The Navajo Weaving Tradition” exhibition, Deborah Brinckerhoff.  The article talks about conflicted viewpoints on interpreting and “Reading Into Navajo Rugs.”  This article says that, “The history of Navajo weaving is a story of adaptation, survival and change . . . It is also a sacred art, embodying creation stories, prayers and ceremonial practices, the ancient and historical past.”  It goes on say that according to Deborah Brinckerhoff, fully understanding Navajo textiles, “requires looking at Navajo history including their four-year confinement by the United States government at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico, and its effect on their life style, the textiles’ design, the weavers’ choice of material, weave, whether to make a blanket, rug or wall hanging and how they were viewed — as tapestries or fine art.”  What do you see when you look at the Navajo Rug below?

This  “Ganado” Navajo Rug made by artist Lydia Chef, is for sale on the Palms Trading Company website.  If you visit this site you can read about the “Ganado” style as well as other Navajo Rug styles.

Burning orange red rock against a magnetic blue sky.  Yellow, purple, pink, and red flowers, wild with passion, ignite the ground with vibrant life.   Spiky cacti and tall evergreens spout hues of green against the mountainous backdrop.  A place where coyotes roam and eagles soar, where bears live and turtles mosey.  Where sunsets inspire the imagination and night skies filled with stars put peace in your heart.  A place full of powerful colors:  introducing, the Southwest.

Native American tribes from the colorful Southwest live in parts of Utah and Colorado and throughout New Mexico and Arizona.   I want to feature two nations of the Southwest to you, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi tribe.  I do not want you readers to expect me to explain to you everything about these nations; that is not my intent.  I am not Navajo or Hopi and would not dream to give you my projected perspective on what it is to be Navajo or Hopi; but rather, I want you to be aware that these nations are alive and flourishing in the United States today.   I hope you readers learn a little something about art and Native Americans of the Southwest.  So pack your sun block and get ready for our adventure into the Southwest…

I want to spend some time blogging on different Native American nations.  I feel like all too often people over generalize Native Americans, and are unaware that there are many Native American tribes (or “nations”) each with distinct linguistic and cultural traditions.  This over generalization creates stagnant, restrictive stereotypes and images for the “Native American.”  Vine Deloria, Jr. talks about “The Indians of the American Imagination” in his book God is Red.  According to Deloria, things such as movies and literature depict Native Americans as either warriors or “go-in-peace” people.  He says for example, “A mythical Hiawatha, a saddened Chief Joseph, a scowling Sitting Bull, a sullen Geronimo; all symbolize not living people but the historic fate of a nation overwhelmed by the inevitability of history” (27).  Deloria highlights something important when he calls American Indians “Indians of the American Imagination”— that those representations do not reflect reality but are romanticized inventions.  Native Americans are more than historic figures; they are alive and well and include a diverse mix of tribes that have distinct linguistic and cultural traditions.

As I am not an expert on each and every Native American nation, I will do my best to at least introduce you readers to some tribes.  I aim to go about this by looking at different regions in the United States:  The Southwest, The Plains, The Mississippi Valley, The Northwest Coast, and the Northeast Woodlands.  Native American art and crafts has been my preoccupation and interest lately, so I plan to pick and explain one piece of artwork per tribe or area.  It is my goal that through these blog posts you will begin to realize distinctions between the Native American nations and see the beauty in diverse, yet united, Native American nations.

While in Colorado, my parents bought some Navajo horsehair pottery to give my grandparents.  Prior to this trip, I had never heard of horsehair pottery.  As I’m sure you can figure out from its name, horsehair pottery is fired using a special ingredient— horsehair.  Potters craft bowls, vases, and different animal figurines such as turtles and bears.  My parents bought a beautifully crafted bear made by a Navajo artist.

Here’s how the process works:  Navajo pottery makers either hand build, wheel throw, or slip cast the substance into a mold and let it set to dry.  Then, the potters clean and polish the ceramic ware.  Next, they heat the ceramic ware in a kiln and add horsehair.  Potters can try to place the horsehair in a particular pattern or just toss the horsehair on the pottery randomly; whichever they decide, they have to add the horsehair quickly as they only have about a thirty-second window of opportunity to do so.  If the potters want to create fine lines on the pottery, they use hair from the mane of the horse.  If they want to create thick lines, they add hair from the tail of a horse.  The horsehair carbonizes and leaves unique patterns on the pottery—the hotter the kiln, the darker the lines.  This process makes each creation unique; a piece of horsehair pottery can never be reproduced or repeated.

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In my last blog post I mentioned a dispute between the Hopi and Navajo tribes involving the making of Kachina Dolls.  This dispute struck my interest because 1) My professor is Hopi and taught me the importance Kachinas have in Hopi life, and 2) My grandparents own several Kachina Dolls.  I love it when my academic lessons intersect with my life experiences; I find that such intersections enhance my life, expanding and revamping the way I view the world around me.  I would like to utilize this blog post to share with you readers what I learned about a Kachina Doll my grandparents’ own— the Eagle Kachina.

Hopi Kachina Dolls are carved out of cottonwood and embody the greatly revered and culturally significant Kachinas.  Out of my grandparents’ collection, the Eagle Kachina Doll or “Kwahu Kachina” is my favorite.  My grandparents’ book Hopi Kachinas The Complete Guide to Collecting Kachina Dolls (1977) explains that,

“The Eagle Kachina appears most often in the Kiva or Repeat Dances of early March.  The dance is a conscious effort to duplicate the actions and motions of eagles and is a prayer for an increase of eagles.  Eagles occupy a rather unique position among the Hopi, for they are treated as honored guests and are given presents just as the Hopi children are.  At midsummer, however, they are ceremonially smothered and plucked of all their plumage.  The kachina, with its out-stretched wings, is a favorite for doll carvers, and countless dolls are made each year.  Formerly these effigies were made with real wings from small birds but nowadays the wings are entirely of wood.” (Wright 92).

The Eagle Kachina Doll my grandparents have on display does not have bird feathers but is completely made out of wood.  The bottom of the doll bears the engraving, “Eagle Kachina WM Koots.”  At first, the artist’s signature “WM Koots” puzzled me; but after poking around on the Internet, I discovered some information on the artist.  “WM Koots” stands for William Kootswatewa, a Hopi master carver from Polacca, Arizona on First Mesa.  I suppose with a last name as long as Kootswatewa, it is easier for him to carve “Koots” on his masterpieces.  Kootswatewa shows great attention to detail; everything including the base, feathers, and eagle wings comes from a single piece of cottonwood.  He also meticulously hand-paints the ceremonial costume on the doll.  This beautiful Kachina Doll, like other Kachina Dolls created by Hopi carvers, generates an appreciation and respect for the Hopi way of life.  I hope the IACA can find a way to resolve the dispute between the Hopi and Navajo tribe and attain its goal for the cultural survival of Native American arts and crafts.

While learning about the IACA, I read William J. Hapiuk, Jr.’s article, “Of Kitsch and Kachinas:  A Critical Analysis of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.”  The final portion of this article, which Hapiuk, Jr. wrote in 2001, presents areas where the IACA, even as amended, fails to solve the problems in the American Indian arts and crafts market.

First, Hapiuk, Jr. explains the difficulty or “messiness” in defining “genuineness.”  He gives the example of a company that claims to sell knives “made” by a Native American.  The juxtaposition of this claim is that a Native American designs the knives, but the knives are actually assembled by factory labor in China.  Should these knives still claim to be “made” by a Native American?

Next, Hapiuk, Jr. presents a controversy between two Native American tribes.  In this case,

“the Hopi tribe has accused the Navajo tribe of making fake kachina dolls, appropriating a Hopi craft that has no traditional basis in Navajo culture. According to Leigh Jenkins, director of the Hopi cultural preservation office, “[The Navajos’ craft] work technically meets the letter of the law, but it’s members of another tribe appropriating the religious symbolism of another tribe.”  The Navajo carve the dolls from balsa wood, while the traditional Hopi kachina doll is made of cottonwood. Under the IACA, the Hopi would have no cause of action, since the Navajo themselves are Indians” (1073-1074).

Finally, Hapiuk, Jr. talks about the complications globalization brings to the IACA.  The expansion of arts and crafts sales via Internet makes it more difficult to enforce a cultural preservation law such as the IACA.  Websites such as www.buckagram.com admittedly sell fake American Indian jewelry.  If you visit the buckagram website, you will see that Bob Nizza, an American expatriate now living in Thailand, openly calls his jewelry “Indian-style.”  Does fake Indian-style jewelry sold over the Internet fall under the jurisdiction of the IACA?  Hapiuk, Jr. makes the point that tracking down fake-Indian retailers on the Internet, especially those outside of the United States, may prove difficult, as well as gaining jurisdiction over these retailers.

In conclusion, Hapiuk, Jr. states that, “To compete in such an environment, and to preserve American Indian tribal heritage, Native American tribes should concentrate their efforts on the existing trademark provisions of the IACA and work in tandem with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to develop internationally recognized and locally implemented certification marks for their handcrafts” (1075).  As Hapiuk, Jr. illustrated in his analysis, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 has a long way to go until it ensures cultural survival.