Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Working Together

Hopi Oral History and Archaeology

Part I: The Consultation Process

T. J. Ferguson, Kurt Dongoske, Mike Yeatts,
and Leigh Jenkins

Haliksa'i! Listen! The Hopi emerged into this, the Fourth World, from the Sipapuni in the Grand Canyon. Emerging, they encountered Ma'saw, guardian of the Fourth World, and made a spiritual pact with him, wherein the Hopi would act as stewards of the earth, vowing to place their footprints throughout the Fourth World as they migrated in a spiritual quest to find their destiny at the center of the universe. Hopi clans embarked on a long series of migrations throughout the Southwest and beyond, settling in various places, until, after many generations, they arrived at their rightful place on the Hopi mesas.

During the migration period, the Hopi clans established themselves throughout the land by cultivating and caring for the earth. As directed by Ma'saw, the setting of Hopi "footprints" included establishment of ritual springs, pilgrimage trails, shrines, and petroglyphs. As they migrated they left behind the graves of their ancestors, ruins, potsherds, grinding stones, and other artifacts to pay the mother earth for use of the area, and as evidence that they had vested the land with their spiritual stewardship, fulfilling their pact with Ma'saw. These archaeological sites today constitute monuments by which Hopi verify clan histories and religious beliefs, and provide physical proof that they have valid claims to a wide region. Yes, this is the way it is. Ta'a, yanhaqam.


Through acts and omissions of the United States, many aboriginal lands claimed and used by the Hopi Indians have been taken from them. As a result, the Hopi today are concerned not only with preservation of sacred areas, ancestral graves, and cultural sites on their own reservation, but also in other developing areas where they have no jurisdiction. In response to this, the Hopi tribe's Cultural Preservation Office (CPO) has attempted to use existing historic preservation legislation as a means of input to management decisions made for historic properties in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

Today, the Hopi, with a population of about 8,500, occupy 12 villages on three mesas on a reservation in northern Arizona. The Hopi tribe is also concerned about sites in adjoining areas that were occupied by Hopi ancestors during the clan migrations.

Hopi efforts to participate in the decision-making process that affects their ancestral sites coincide with a burgeoning movement in the historic preservation field to consider traditional cultural properties as historic sites, and with federal and state agencies' efforts to implement the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and related state legislation. Implementation of NAGPRA and the National Historic Preservation Act as amended on October 30, 1992, requires consultation with Indian tribes and traditional religious leaders whose resources are subject to impact. The Hopi tribe takes the opportunity and responsibility to consult seriously. Additionally, the CPO believes that a true inventory and consideration of a proposed project's effects on cultural resources cannot be obtained without ethnographic and ethnohistoric research to complement a standard archaeological inventory. Genuine consultation with the Hopi tribe requires more than simply written notification of a proposed impact from a land management agency, with a 30-day period for comment.

In this paper we 1) describe how the consultation process works, 2) discuss the Hopi perspectives of how and why archaeological sites constitute traditional cultural properties, and 3) examine cultural preservation goals in relation to archaeological and ethnohistorical research, with the objective of describing the need and importance of the consultation process.

To Top of Page

The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office

The Hopi CPO was established as a tribal program in the Department of Natural Resources in 1988. It currently has a full-time staff of 11: a director, a tribal archaeologist, three project archaeologists, a media specialist, three Hopi research specialists, an administrative assistant, a transcriber, and several secretaries. The CPO is dedicated to preserving the spiritual and cultural essence of the Hopi, encompassing various concerns: archaeology, ethnology, recovery of stolen sacred artifacts, farming, and preservation of the Hopi language. The program is supported directly by the Hopi tribe, with supplemental funding from project sponsors who require its professional services. With respect to archaeology and ethnology, the CPO is challenged to develop an appropriate means for the Hopi villages, clans, and religious societies to participate in program activities by contributing the esoteric, highly guarded information needed for management purposes. Hopi Oral History and Archaeology

Much of this esoteric information is embedded in clan history or the ceremonial knowledge of Hopi religious societies. Clan history is ritual knowledge, rarely shared legitimately with other clans, and much less so with non-Indians. Past anthropological research has occasionally violated researcher-informant confidentiality, resulting in the guarded context of current research. The Hopi have objected to much of the past research, but had no way to control it. This legacy has left many Hopi suspicious of scholarly research, bringing about a cautious attitude that affects the CPO in its own research activities. The CPO decided that direct involvement of Hopi elders would make current research more acceptable to the Hopi people.

To Top of Page

The Hopi Cultural Resources Advisory Task Team

A Hopi Cultural Resources Advisory Task Team was established in 1991 to guide and assist the CPO research activities. Assembling this team has been a significant accomplishment. This Advisory Team currently consists of 18 men, representing all of the Hopi villages, and a number of prominent clans, priesthoods, and religious societies. Importantly, it also includes representatives from autonomous villages that decline to send representatives to the Hopi Tribal Council and which do not otherwise participate in the centralized Hopi tribal government.

The advisory team holds monthly meetings, but also calls special meetings to consult on specific issues. Field trips are made as necessary to inspect project areas and to evaluate sites, providing an important way to contextualize project impacts on resources and the opportunity to identify traditional cultural properties that archaeologists may have overlooked or not recognized during surveys. When more intensive field investigations are required, a subset of the advisory team is appointed.

Advisory team members hold distinguished positions of authority within the traditional village social structure, but their committee participation is a secular activity separate from their regular religious responsibilities. Since advisory team activities take these men away from farming and other productive activities, tribal policy provides an honorarium for time spent on CPO consultation. Funding is provided by both the tribe and project sponsors.

The CPO considers advisory team members to be experts in Hopi culture, possessing important information for management of cultural resources. The CPO values their contributions, as it would the contribution of any specialist or expert. Unfortunately, many bureaucrats and archaeologists don't value traditional learning as much as they do western education, as is demonstrated by the double standard commonly applied in ethnohistoric research. "Informants," those who actually have the knowledge, are the least likely to be viewed as "educated," and therefore, are the least likely to be compensated for their knowledge. Anthropologists and historians who use this information are the ones compensated for that "knowledge," gained indirectly. This stems from several historical prejudices: 1) the traditional view that Native Americans are the subject of research, not active participants as cultural experts in their own right (this view objectifies people and reduces them to "data," and some anthropologists refuse to pay for data); 2) the tendency to value formal western education more than traditional learning; and 3) the belief that cultural properties are of greatest concern to Native Americans and, therefore, their time and knowledge should be volunteered to protect them. This would be valid if an undertaking impacted a resource controlled by Native Americans, but a Native American group would rarely propose an action that would knowingly destroy a resource of cultural value. Impacts are more often related to federal, state, and private agencies pursuing their own agendas for development. In this context, a request for volunteer information, because it is in the "best interest" to protect resources valued by the tribe, is extortion.

The CPO considers this situation analogous to that of archaeologists who are also interested in cultural resource protection. Archaeologists are no longer asked to donate their time to locate and evaluate cultural resources in developing areas, or to mitigate impacts on those resources. Professional archaeologists established the need to be paid for this work three decades ago. The Hopi tribe thinks the emerging federal and state requirements for consultation with cultural advisors and tribal elders needs similar funding.

Hopi accounts of clan migrations relate that the ancestors, the Hisatsinom, passed through many areas of the Southwest before the gathering of clans on the Hopi mesas. Each clan followed its unique route and established its own history. The Hopi know that the area occupied by the Hisatsinom transcends the geographic constraints of the culture areas defined by archaeologists. Although these cultural constructs play an important role in contemporary archaeological theory, they constitute foreign concepts in the Hopi's understanding of the past. The knowledge and history obtained during migration is specific to each clan and constitutes esoteric information that is not shared between clans. Consequently, the process of compiling information for legal and management purposes is complex and time consuming, requiring consultation with many people.

The consultation process should be initiated early during project planning to allow sufficient flexibility for the CPO to compile information from the advisory team and input from other Hopi people. Consultation should be initiated through a letter addressed to the tribal chairman, presenting relevant information for the proposed development, and requesting information about concerns the Hopi tribe may have. Federal and state agencies should not assume that consultation will consist of a single exchange of letters, or that a lack of response within a 30-day period constitutes tribal concurrence.

To Top of Page

Consultation with Sponsors, Regulatory Agencies, and Other Tribes

The Hopi CPO has developed a protocol for combining archaeological and ethnohistorical research with participation and review by the advisory team on two large projects: the Glen Canyon Environment Studies (GCES) sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation, which studied the environmental impacts relating to the Glen Canyon Dam operation; and the Salt River Project's (SRP) Fence Lake Mine and Transportation Corridor Project, in New Mexico and Arizona.

The CPO and advisory team have benefited from numerous meetings with regulatory agencies where state and federal responsibilities in the compliance process were explained. For people who have not been inculcated into the sometimes arcane rules and regulations of historic preservation, the compliance process can be bewildering and confusing. Effective consultation depends on the advisory team understanding exactly what they are consulting about. For the Fence Lake Mine project, a series of informative meetings were held with SRP, representatives of the Arizona and New Mexico state historic preservation officers, and the Bureau of Land Management. The CPO held additional meetings with the various Hopi villages and other local groups to share project information and to seek advice on how to proceed. A total of 27 meetings were held. Similar meetings were held for the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies project with the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service.

Presumably these meetings have laid the groundwork for future projects. However, the dynamic nature of historic preservation and cultural resources management may require continuing education as new laws are passed, and as new ways are developed to implement existing rules and regulations.

In formal consultation for NAGPRA and the National Historic Preservation Act, the Hopi tribe has explicitly stated that its participation in the compliance process does not imply endorsement or support of a particular development or project. Its interest is in protecting as many sites as possible, not in facilitating their destruction through new development.

To Top of Page

Archaeological Sites as Traditional Cultural Properties

For the implementation of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, traditional cultural properties are defined by P. L. Parker and T. F. King as historic sites that are important because of "their association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that 1) are rooted in the community's history and 2) are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community." To qualify for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, traditional cultural properties must exhibit four attributes: an age greater than 50 years; existence as a tangible property; integrity in relation to the transmission and retention of cultural beliefs or the performance of ceremonial practices; and integrity of condition wherein their traditional cultural significance has not been reduced through alteration of location, setting, design, or materials. Consultation to identify and evaluate traditional cultural properties should play a key role in the historic preservation compliance process. If state and federal regulators determine traditional cultural properties to be eligible for the National Register, the project impact on these sites must be considered and this process provides an opportunity to protect the site.

For management purposes, all Hopi traditional cultural properties can be reduced to historic sites, although this is not an entirely satisfying procedure. The real significance of many of these sites is as sacred sites, and under existing law, sacred sites have less protection than historic sites. Since all Hopi shrines and religious practices were established in ancient times, and are integral in the transmission and retention of Hopi culture, these sacred sites meet the criteria for classification as traditional cultural properties. The conceptual and legal reduction of sacred sites to historic sites is pragmatic management, but is nonetheless emotionally difficult for tribal elders.

The Hopi have many different types of traditional cultural properties: shrines, sacred sites, springs, resource collection areas, and geographical landforms with place names that commemorate prehistoric or historic events. In the Hopi perspective, every ancestral archaeological site is also a traditional cultural property, because they are tangible monuments validating Hopi culture, history, and the Hopi's covenant with Ma'saw. As such, archaeological sites play a central role in the transmission and retention of Hopi culture. Moreover, every prehistoric Hopi village also has an associated village shrine that retains contemporary religious significance.

The Hopi tribe's definition of ancestral archaeological sites as traditional cultural properties was derived from consultation with the advisory team. The standard definition was read and discussed in the context of a specific set of archaeological sites in the SRP Fence Lake Mine project area. Eligibility of these sites for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places was reviewed, and Hopi advisors decided that archaeological sites were eligible in that they were associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of Hopi history (i.e., clan migrations), they are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past (i.e., Hopi ancestors), they are a portion of a larger entity that is significant (i.e., clan migrations), and they have yielded or have the potential to yield information pertinent in prehistory and history.

Regulatory agency archaeologists stated at the outset of consultation with the Hopi tribe that they did not think the definition of traditional cultural properties was intended to be so broadly applied to all sites. In their view, the concept of traditional cultural properties had targeted a different set of cultural sites not usually recorded by archaeologists. In the absence of any other means of management, the Hopi are glad to see these other cultural sites managed as historic properties. However, taking the Parker and King definition of traditional cultural property at face value, tribal members decided that "cultural property" also applies to all ancestral archaeological sites an example of one special interest group interpreting the same language in very different ways. Archaeologists should realize that their interpretation of the language in federal guidelines, rules, and regulations is not necessarily the only or even the best interpretation. The CPO has been successful in convincing some parties to the consultation process that its definition of archaeological sites as traditional cultural properties is valid. This definition means, of course, that the Hopi now expect to be consulted about the mitigation plan for archaeological sites suffering adverse impacts.

To Top of Page

Part II will be presented in the June/July/August issue of the SAA Bulletin.

T. J. Ferguson is with the Institute of the NorthAmerican West. Kurt Dongoske, Mike Yeatts, and Leigh Jenkins are with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.

Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page