What Is the Hopi Tribe?

Alan Rankin

The Hopi tribe is a Native American nation in the state of Arizona. It is part of the Pueblo civilization that dwells on cliffs and mesas in the deserts of the southwestern United States. It is one of the few tribes not forcibly relocated by the U.S. government at some point; the tribe is believed to have occupied the same area since at least the 12th century. Some members of the Hopi tribe maintain traditional language and cultural traits. The nation makes significant income from coal mining of its ancestral lands.

The Hopi tribe is native to Arizona, which is located in the American West.
The Hopi tribe is native to Arizona, which is located in the American West.

The full name of the Hopi is Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, generally translated as “the peaceful people.” The Hopi tribe has inhabited a string of mesas in modern-day Arizona for hundreds of years. The original settlement, Oraibi, is the oldest continually occupied village in North America, founded in the 12th century. Like other Pueblo civilizations, the original Hopi lived in multi-story, cliff-side adobe buildings that housed dozens or hundreds of people. They were not encountered by European explorers until the 1500s.

The lands of the Hopi tribe were not initially seen as valuable, so the tribe did not face the forced relocation that many others had to endure. Their lands were the subject of disputes with the neighboring Navajo tribe, however. These disputes were not resolved until the late 20th century, and the results remain controversial. Like many other Native Americans, the Hopi also experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries. This included schooling that threatened to disconnect the Hopi from their traditional culture.

The people of Oraibi successfully resisted this indoctrination, preserving the old ways for future generations of the Hopi tribe. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 allowed them to continue their traditional agrarian lifestyle. In the 1950s, coal was discovered on the Hopi ancestral lands. While providing a small fortune to the tribe, it also made the Hopi the target of manipulation by business and political interests. The tribe was forced to create a system of government that could negotiate mining agreements.

In the 21st century, the Hopi tribe numbers in the thousands of people and is governed by a tribal council, although its traditional communities are largely self-maintained. Tourism and coal mining remain major providers of income; unlike other tribes, the Hopi never allowed gambling casinos on their tribal lands. Many Hopi have continued the agricultural traditions of their tribe; others earn their livings creating traditional art, ceramics and jewelry. This includes the Hopi kachina dolls, representations of gods and spirits that have become highly regarded as objects of native art.

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