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Who are the Hopi Indians?

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  • Written By: Eleanor Newman
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2016
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The Hopi Indians are an American Indian tribe that lives in northeastern Arizona on a reservation near the Black Mesa. The Hopi belong to the Pueblo people of the southwestern US. They are known for their terrace farms and deep spirituality. Their name means "people of peace" in the Hopi language. The Hopi are generally proud of the fact that they have lived in the same region for over 1,000 years, and they claim to be the most rooted of all peoples in North America.

The tribe farmed corn, beans, melons and squash in terraced fields. They also raised cotton, tobacco and turkeys. Hopi men hunted deer for meat and used their hides and bones for clothing and tools. Women baked cornbread and gathered fruit and herbs.

Traditionally, Hopi men wore breechcloths, or knee-length shorts, and women wore cotton dresses fastened at one shoulder. These dresses were called mantas. Missionaries thought this style too revealing, and around the turn of the 20th century, some of the women began wearing blouses under their mantas, a style that persists today. The Hopi wore moccasins made of deerskin. Men pinned their hair into buns, while married women wore pigtails.

Hopi Indians lived in pueblos, which are compact, apartment-like structures built of mud and stone. Pueblos stay cool even in the hot summer months. The first pueblo village, called the Oraibi village, was built in about 1050 and has been continuously inhabited since its founding.

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These people are matrilineal, meaning everyone traces their lineage through their mothers. Women owned the fields and their pueblos and ran the family, while men were the hunters and warriors. Traditionally, the head priest of each village also served as the village chief. A council of elders now guides the Hopi nation.

Hopi spirituality weaves together stories, songs, dances and festivals. Both men and women officiated at religious ceremonies. The Hopi Indians worship their gods in shrines and ceremonies and draw insights from the movements of the stars.

The first Europeans made contact with the Hopi in 1540. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led a group of soldiers and missionaries into their midst. The coming of the Spaniards sparked tensions in the region, and the Hopi began warring sporadically with the Spanish and the neighboring Navajo until 1824, when Mexico took possession of Hopi lands. In 1870, the US government laid claim to Hopi territory, sparking more conflict. American soldiers pushed the Hopi onto a reservation, where they remain today.

This tribe works to honor its traditions while navigating modern American life. Many Hopi make their living as artisans, creating and selling crafts like the traditional Kachina dolls and fine pottery. Others live and work outside of the reservation. Visitors are allowed on the Hopi Indian reservation, but taking pictures or documenting Hopi life is forbidden. The tribe seeks to maintain a cultural core that is untouched by outsiders.

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