Ariz. The small plots below the curve of a steep gravel road
seem an unlikely place to grow crops, as does the sandy slope near
a busy freeway and the cliff side of a tribal village.
Hopis know that these places aren't the
most accessible, but it's here where the staples of traditional
food corn, squash and beans flourish with what little
water reaches the usually dry land.
It's a farming technique that has been
practiced for centuries as part of a belief that a prosperous life
comes through hard work.
Micah Loma'omvaya shares those stories
as a part of a tour he leads to the Hopi mesas that rise above the
northern Arizona desert, giving visitors a glimpse of Hopi tradition
and culture that's rooted in agriculture.
The tours have fed the desire of visitors
to learn about one of the oldest indigenous tribes in America but
also an economic need where business opportunities are scarce.
"There are a lot of discussions on
Hopi on ideas of how we can capitalize on the things we have, and
tourism is one of them," said Cliff Quotsaquahu, a research
assistant in the tribe's Office of Community Planning and Economic
Standing amid salt bushes that Hopis use
in stews, Loma'omvaya points to a coal seam running through a rugged
canyon in the distance. The tribal government is largely dependent
on coal revenues that make up the majority of its non-federal budget.
Half of the work force is unemployed.
About 20 percent of tribal members who make a living off selling
arts and crafts from their homes or roadside stands don't figure
into that statistic, Quotsaquahu said.
lack of infrastructure on the 1.6 million-acre reservation that's
landlocked by the much-larger Navajo Nation means industrial development
is nonexistent. An industrial park that the tribe owns off the reservation
once churned out underwear and baseball caps but now is vacant.
Tribal members have twice rejected gaming.
"Limited access to any economic development
centers is an understatement," tribal chairman Le Roy Shingoitewa
recently told members of Congress.
Curiosity in the history of the Hopis,
who are known to have been in Arizona for 2,000 years, gives tribal
members like Loma'omvaya an avenue for income.
Tourists see hundreds of petroglyphs,
are greeted by farmers at terraced gardens and corn fields and hear
about the preservation of ancient seeds crops.
Loma'omvaya, an anthropologist, carries
around historic photos with plowing equipment sitting outside stone
homes, fruit trees dotting the reservation and high water levels
He ferries tourists across the reservation
in his pickup truck, playing Native music and pointing out geographical
features. These tours have been ongoing since 1540, he says half-jokingly.
That's the year Hopis directed Spanish conquistadors and their guides
to the Grand Canyon.
The Hopi admittedly want to keep tourism
"There hasn't been this much accessibility
to the Hopi culture in a long time," said James Surveyor, the
marketing and sales associate at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites
on the reservation. "As that keeps going, we're going to get
more people into Hopi. We don't look at a future where we want charter
bus after charter bus like the Grand Canyon."
tribes also have seen the benefits of tourism. The Hualapai in northwestern
Arizona just celebrated 23 years in the industry with destinations
that now include the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The Navajo Nation draws
tourists with Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Monument Valley
and other tribal parks.
Across the Hopi reservation, newly plowed
fields with corn planted deep down await moisture. Part of Hopi
belief is that they are stewards of the land. A higher being handed
down a bag of seeds, a water gourd and a planting stick along with
a promise of a hard and enduring but prosperous life from farming,
said Leland Dennis, coordinator of the Natwani Coalition that focuses
on preserving the agriculture tradition.
Ceremonies, songs and cultural activities
are tied directly to agriculture with prayers for rain and a fertile
harvest. Prayer sticks with feathers hang from stones that support
terraced gardens, and Hopi art commonly features rain clouds.
"That's the simplest of pleasures
that we forget in our commodity-driven society when we want the
latest iPod, vehicle and the best shoes," Surveyor said. "That
prayer, that ceremony, that belief is all intertwined with farming
because farming is what the people are."