Cultural Revolutions

No Place for Strict Adherence

The Hopi Indian Reservation of northeastern Arizona is no place for strict adherents to the doctrine of the separation of church and state. The 8,000 or so present-day Hopi, unlike members of many Native American societies, have cautiously preserved much of their traditional culture and belief; most Hopis are inducted into secret religious societies by adolescence, and six months out of the year are given over to a succession of rites honoring the katsinam, the Hopi gods. In secular life, however, the Hopis have been inclined not to let religion stand as an issue, choosing instead to find common ground in endless disputes with the surrounding Navajo nation and the federal government. Indeed, many prominent Hopi politicians are Mormon, others Catholic or evangelical Christian.

If the Hopi traditionalists have their way, however, the Tribal Council—which administers millions of dollars annually from federal grants, investments, and extraction revenues from the vast Peabody Coal Company mines nearby—will be abolished, and the tribal constitution of 1936 declared invalid. In their place, should the traditionalists succeed, each of the ten Hopi villages will be governed by kikmongwim, the hereditary religious leaders who exercised absolute power in pre-reservation days.

The traditionalists have accused the Tribal Council and its chairman, Vernon Hopi Masayesva, of having "broken faith with...

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