Sunday, July 12, 2015


I met Robert Rhodes (aka Bob) at least 15 years ago through a mutual friend on the Hopi Mesas. IN 1971, with a Bachelor and Masters degrees in Music Education from the University of New Mexico and a Doctorate in Education from Arizona State University, he began his career as a Teacher and Business Manager at Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School on 3rd Mesa, Arizona which is one of the most conservative mesas on the Hopi Reservation. He has lived there ever since.  

A few years after he arrived at Hopi he met an artist who became a very famous jeweler, Verma Sequaptewa, known as Sonwai.  He married her in 1977 and has been her business manager for the last 25 years.

We haven’t been up to the Hopi Mesas for some time but an email I received recently brought back many good memories. It was a press release from Bob that the school he started, Hopitutuquaiki. This can be translated as simply Hopi School, or going one language layer deeper, the place where you learn Hopi things.  The Hopi School, had received a grant of $19,724 from the First Nations Development Institute out of Longmont, Colorado.  The school at this time has a summer arts and language program for which their non-profit must raise $40,000 a year.  Their ambition is to become a year round arts-magnet school, but for that they will need to raise $350,000 a year.

Sometime after we met, Bob sent me a research paper he had done in 1999 on the role the arts play in Hopi commerce, which is major both on and off the reservation.  He concluded that arts and crafts were as important a source of funds for the Hopi as government jobs!  At the time he sent me the report in 2003, he felt that few had seen his paper and that it had not fulfilled his hoped for function.  I see it differently.  He took what he learned from this research in and together with his education background started a school teaching one of the most important aspects of the Hopi economy, the arts.  They are teaching language and history as well, not as in a traditional classroom but in a manner that it will be far better absorbed by the students.  He wants the students to be able to function, not just within the Hopi society, but also in the Anglo world (BTW, Bob is Anglo).  He understands, however, that one must start this education from within the Hopi belief system.

Years ago one Indian, a total stranger, on the Rez confided in me that he had been away in Phoenix for a number of years and had forgotten much of his language.  As a result his family had still not totally accepted him back.  This is how important the language is within the society, though English is a necessity as well.  We have only met a few much older Hopi who could only communicate through the younger members of the family who would translate for them. Years ago Hopi raised funds in order to establish its own Hopi language radio station and we actually own the small print 900 page Hopi dictionary, which I used to translate the title of this blog! 

At Hopitutuquaiki preschoolers learn how to pursue their tribe’s traditional crafts with an emphasis on weaving and basket weaving and in the process learn their language and culture.  In this image the little ones on the floor are in an emergence class learning the Hopi language through numbers, parts of their body and such.

 Students in the school range in age from 3 to 72. The youngsters are encouraged “to complete at least one kilt (pitkuna), sash (mutsapnguenkwewa), sifter (tutsaya) or wicker plaque (yungyapu)” during the summer.  What I found fascinating and wonderful was that often the younger students help the older ones, who may be infirm in one way or another, make their art while the older ones tell them about what it was like at Hopi 30-40 or even 50 years ago. I have always thought that a home for the elderly should be combined with a school.  The generations have so much to give to each other.  I knew one 90 year old who said I don’t want to be with old people, just young ones!  Here is an image of 3 men weaving.  One is just out of high school another in his 30’s and they are working alongside an older gentleman.

In another image that Bob sent me the students are making a ceramic tile mural on the side of Verma’s House.  Piki is a flat bread made from blue corn by the women in the Southern pueblos.  It is often  used for ceremonies such weddings, but it is sold as well, and we have bought it from a woman at Acoma.  One does not, however want to make this in one’s home because of the smoke and smell, so many Natives have a separate Piki House.  Verma’s is on the other side of her uncle, Charles Loloma’s, house.  He was the most famous Hopi Jeweler during the second half of the 20th century.    She inherited his home and the school also uses it for classes.

Two more images of the girls weaving traditional baskets and the children making traditional patterns in watercolors show further the serious activity at the school.

No one is turned away and students do not just come from Hopi.  They may be from a neighboring tribe such as the Navajo or Zuni, but also Anglos enroll once in a while.  If you think it is as wonderful an endeavor as I do you can find out more at where you can also find an address to which to send a tax deductible donation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment