History of the Hopi People

We often don’t realize how diverse Native tribes are – including their cultural traditions, differences in governance, and distinct histories over time. Today, we’re taking a look at the history of the Hopi people — known as “the Peaceful Ones.”

Historically, the Hopituh Shinumu (traditional name of the Hopi people) were well regarded as one of the most settled tribes in the Four Corners region. Hopi villages such as Old Oraibi are among the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in what is now the U.S. Their well-developed trade networks extended throughout the southern regions of the U.S. and into Mexico.

Hopi was also well regarded as one of the most developed social cultures, both matriarchal and matrilineal. Unlike some tribes, women determined social status and clan lines of future generations (meaning the children of a marriage are members of the wife’s clan). Their rich spiritual culture was based on generosity, with the well-being of the children and community among their highest priorities.

Beginning in the 1500’s, multiple recorded meetings showed attempts by Spanish Crusaders to oppress the Hopi and convert them to Christianity. Spanish and American politics also led to the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo in 1848, in which the U.S. won jurisdiction of the region and Manifest Destiny ensued. These scenarios eventually led the Peaceful Ones to fight for their culture in a series of battles that extended into the 1800s. But, with colonizers coming to the West and claiming Hopi lands for settlement, in 1882 the Hopi were relocated onto the reservation where they live today.

Like other Native Americans, the Hopi people were influenced by missionary work and Christianity, both before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and in boarding schools on the reservation. Many Hopi accepted Christianity, but the majority also retained their traditional spiritual practices.

After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Hopi had more freedom of self-governance and were quick to establish a tribal council and write their Constitution with representatives from each village “to provide a way of working together for peace and agreement between villages and of preserving the things of Hopi Life.”

Although the Hopi have lost about 90 percent of their original reservation land, they have close to 20,000 enrolled tribal members today. Hopi culture and spiritual practices are vibrant. The people still practice some of their oldest dances and many still speak their Native language. The Hopituh Shinumu stand as a beacon to show us not all Indigenous cultures were lost. Their closely held virtues of generosity, commitment, and adaptation have helped them weather history, keep their culture alive and stand as a modern tribe today.

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