top of page
  • Peggy Simonsen

Hopi and Navajo Culture

On a recent hiking trip to northern Arizona, we were immersed in Indigenous history and culture. We stayed one night in Tuba City, at the entrance to the Hopi lands, which are surrounded by the much larger Navajo territory. We went on a Hopi Footprint tour with Marilyn, whose grandfather was White Bear. When I commented that I grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, she said she had been there. She attended nursing school in Minnesota! (And then went to law school!)

Marilyn drove us to the first, second and third mesas to see Hopi Villages that have not changed in many generations. Some are only available to see with a Hopi guide. Walpi is private, but we drove to Hano and Oraibi, named for the clans that live there. We stopped for ice cream at a Hopi gift shop, where I bought Hopi-made silver earrings. They are known for their art, pottery and basket weaving skills. There is a wealth of ancient petroglyphs on many of the sandstone rocks in the area.

We learned a lot about Hopi beliefs, how they were historically overtaken by the Spanish conquistadors and monks for two centuries, and finally resisted. Marilyn said her grandfather even objected to her learning Spanish in high school, wanting to erase all traces of the changes caused by the Spaniards. And then continuing into the 20th century, the extreme discrimination and relocation caused by the US government. I didn’t know that abducting Indian children to take them to boarding schools continued up to the 1960s! Some parents hid their little children when the authorities came, to prevent them being abducted. Marilyn spoke highly of Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Department of Interior, who is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, from the Laguna Pueblo, friends of the Hopi.

When we drove north to Page, AZ which grew as a city after the Glen Canyon dam was built in 1974, we were in the Navajo territory, which historically overran the smaller tribes. We stopped at the Cameron Trading Post, one of the original trading posts used by the white settlers as they moved west. The Navajos manage Antelope Canyon (see post under Nature) which is on their land. Apparently it used to be open to hikers, but was so badly damaged by graffiti that they now require going in with a Navajo guide.

Native Americans were instrumental in helping explorers and settlers in the 19th century. They knew the territory, helped them find ways to cross the Colorado River heading west, and taught them about the edible plants of the desert. We went to Marble Canyon, where the Navajo bridge over the Colorado was built in the 1930s. In the 1990s it was replaced by a stronger bridge capable of holding the huge cross-country trucks, but the original bridge was kept as a National Historic Site.

The art, beliefs, living on the land and strong cultures of the Navajo and Hopi and other local tribes as well as the unique geology of the area are all superbly displayed in the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. It was built to be an education center and it serves that mission well. We wished we had more time to spend there.

Navajo Horsehair pot below is wrapped with horsehair before firing, so hair burns off but leaves the marks in the clay.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page