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Journal of Political Ecology: 
Case Studies in History and Society

 

 

VOLUME 4 (1997)

Roads in the Sky: The Hopi Indians in a Century of Change, by Richard O. Clemmer. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995. xiv, 377 pp.

Reviewed by Marc Sills, Political Science Department, Metropolitan State University, Denver, Colorado

This book is of great significance to anyone looking for an updated and comprehensive view of Hopi affairs, as well as to anyone even modestly sensitized to the questions raised by the Navajo relocation. Framed in a world systems model of global-local articulations, Roads in the Sky is also an essential addition to the bookshelves of American Indian policy scholars.

On a personal note, I began my graduate studies as a "Big Mountain partisan" (Clemmer s term). I was motivated at first by the alarms that were heard in the late 1970s and early 1980s, claims that Navajos (at Big Mountain, the reference is to Diné) subjected to the terms of the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974 (PL 93-531) were victims of "genocide." How could this be genocide , without machine guns and gas chambers and other means of mass murder? Eventually, I undertook a conceptual investigation of "ethnocide" (also referred to as "cultural genocide"), always with the Big Mountain question to orient my perspective (Sills 1992).

Are Hopis, as well as Navajos, victims of ethnocide? As Clemmer makes clear in this book, both peoples have suffered an immeasurable loss of control of their own destinies as a result of the policies to which they both have been subjected. But neither people has vanished, as was forecast only several decades ago; instead, they have both survived sufficiently to have developed successful resistance and revitalization strategies. Measuring and testing the balance of shifting countervailing forces of Hopi cultural life and death is the project that Clemmer has taken on. Confronting the full scope of these forces has required a clear-headed deciphering of the many contradictions of Hopi realities and, later in the book, their pertinence to the relocation. Clemmer is able to describe that tangle of issues with impressive clarity and insight. His book masterfully highlights the intricately interconnected clan, lineage, ceremonial, village, economic, political, social and personal relationships among Hopis. This richly textured fabric of social organization is situated within a shifting context of struggle over the allocation of political power, a colonial economy based on coal-mining, and Navajo neighbors whose presence is an obstacle to the full control of Hopi ancestral lands.

Roads in the Sky is anchored conceptually in the "world-systems" model of "modernization," a dynamic framework for analysis of neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism. Identifying the origins, the persistence, and observable manifestations of a peripheral power node in Hopiland are major objectives of the book. But, as Clemmer explains, the "modernization" that drives the proliferation and extension of power nodes is a messy process that generates major counter-forces to take into account, including diverse indigenous resistance and adaptation strategies. Since colonialism and imperialism are broadly understood to be illegitimate in Hopiland (as elsewhere), resistance movements can be predicted to continue for generations, and there may never be a time when hope of ultimate liberation is decisively extinguished. Clemmer s purpose, in part, then, is to identify evidence that Hopis continue to resist colonialism, that they are not ultimately controlled by the United States, that in fact Hopis have actually exercised their own moments of control over the United States, and that the struggle is far from over.

Clemmer makes a significant contribution by describing the arc of "resistance to directed culture change" as a multi-dimensional counter-force to the process of ethnocide. His work on resistance to acculturation is anchored in the works of Bronislaw Malinowski, Melville Herskovits, and Edward Spicer, each of whom wrote of power struggles between colonizing and colonized peoples. Clemmer explicates the historical Hopi (and Navajo) experiences of "indirect colonial rule," which has defined U.S. Indian Policy since the 1930s. Roads in the Sky tells of a complex process of developing indirect rule as a policy of forcibly compressing several independent Hopi nations together into a centralized administrative entity -- "The Hopi Tribe." Represented by the Hopi Tribal Council, this administration has now had some forty-five years of relative continuity but remains fundamentally flawed and relatively unstable. As Clemmer explains, that instability is also evidence of Hopi resistance to colonialism, evidence with which one might argue that the struggle is both unresolved and has an uncertain prognosis.

The role Clemmer himself has played in Hopiland began in the late 1960s, when he informed some traditional Hopi leaders of the secret leases of the reservation lands for coal strip-mining. Clearly, he contributed something to the conflict then ongoing between the so-called Traditionals and the so-called Progressives in power, but that effect was apparently only temporary, since it was in the interest of all Hopis to know about the leases. The act of baring this secret was immensely controversial, but time and the seamless Hopi web of all issues and relationships have reworked its meaning. Thirty years later, the Hopi Tribal Council can speak compellingly, and with the associated authority of "Traditionals" to defend it, of controlling the mineral extraction process that feeds it and makes its life possible economically, whilst damaging the entire ecosystem and abusing human rights in the process.

Evidence of Clemmer s continued activism is to be found in his comprehensive exposition of relevant political facts (instead of including just those that are in the interest of one partisan group or the next). He even argues that some of the Hopis who been understood previously as Traditionals have begun to make major concessions in their ideological positions in relation to the Tribal Council. Clemmer feels these concessions, in effect, legitimize the Council s existence, and thus concede the one fundamental tenet -- denial of the Tribal Council s authority -- that formerly defined the Traditionalist movement. Public exposure of these relationships is something many Hopis are likely to view as "sensitive" information. If Clemmer s purpose is flawed, from their viewpoint, he has erred by telling too much.

Roads in the Sky treats the Hopi Traditionalists as a social movement. This treatment immediately sets up a contrast between the Hopi people and the Hopi as a "nation," or as several nations. However, unlike Peter Iverson s explicit treatment of the phenomenon of nation-building among the Navajo (1981), Clemmer leaves the status of Hopi nationhood unresolved. His implication is clear, however: to speak of a Hopi national entity (or a Navajo nation, for that matter) is to legitimize colonial administrative governments that have self-determination in name only, and that continue primarily to serve the economic and political interests of the metropole.

By placing the Hopi Tribal Council in a more encompassing political context, it is easier to interpret its operations as a power node extended (by deceit, manipulation, and coercion) into the periphery. At Hopi it is woven into a huge knot of tangled relationships that do not lend themselves to easy comprehension, much less easy engagement in pursuit of non-violent resolution to the conflict at Big Mountain.

An associated question that Clemmer also leaves open concerns how the land struggles between certain communities of Hopis and Navajos became generalized (and thus misperceived) as a great national struggle between "the Hopis" and "the Navajos," represented by their respective "tribal governments." In that over-generalization, the Navajos are often framed as the bad guys, in great part because Navajos outnumber Hopis by a great margin. In my view, the demographic differential should have little bearing on the "land dispute"; the Navajo population did not increase at the expense of the Hopi population, which is not to say that the population of Navajos in the 1882 did not increase. But there was legitimacy to Navajo occupancy of the now partitioned lands after 1882; many Navajos moved into that area as a matter of U.S. policy.

In the frame-up, the Navajos are understood as belligerent aggressors, not as having been in great part forced into conflict with Hopis over land, due to the imperial expansion of the U.S. From this revised perspective, the U.S. is primarily accountable for the injuries sustained by both Navajos and Hopis. There may well have been some "bad" Navajos who presented threats to their "good" Hopi neighbors; but Clemmer explains that the majority of complaints came from First Mesa villages, against Navajos who came west out of the 1868 reservation through the Ganado region, following their release from Bosque Redondo. These Navajo communities or families had clear legal obligations attached to the tiponi explained in Chapter 9, but these obligations were to Hopis, not to the U.S. government. At no time did the United States government legally become the enforcer of the tiponi. Instead, the US legitimized the presence of Navajos in the area that became the 1882 reservation, right up until coal-mining interests necessitated clear titles. This is an important point in Clemmer s argument, in fact; the problem is a question of emphasis.

In addition, the Navajos spoken for in the tiponi did not speak for other Navajos in other geographic regions. Clemmer explains that "thousands" of Navajos were in the area that eventually became the northern reaches of the 1882 reservation from a period that predates the entry of the United States, and perhaps the arrival of the Spanish, as well. Many of these Navajos eluded capture by Kit Carson and subsequent removal to Bosque Redondo, and they had their own separate peace with Oraibi (at Third Mesa), while having little if anything to do with the events at First Mesa. These Navajos were not belligerent aggressors. As Clemmer explains, the relations between some Navajos and Hopis were more than just cordial; they were interdependent economically as well as politically and militarily, and they cemented such relations especially through intermarriage. Many of the people at Big Mountain and in the other resistance communities trace their descent and legacy from those earlier resisters -- the friendly neighbors welcomed in Oraibi. These Navajos were (and are) unfairly included in accounting for whatever negative events transpired around First Mesa. But even the Navajos around First Mesa were never fairly represented by the Navajo Nation s government in Window Rock (another "finger" of the US government, in Clemmer s analysis). The Navajo government became the legal entity made accountable for all offenses, great and small, committed by Navajos who were being subjected to the same pressures as Hopis upon whose traditional lands they were residents.

Another chapter in Hopi political history on which Clemmer should place greater emphasis is the resuscitation of the Hopi Tribal Council in 1951. The Council was reconstituted for the fundamental purpose of being legal party not to secret leases of the reservation, but rather to the Indian Claims Commission case that bought off the Hopis (at a pittance!) for the southern reaches of their ancestral homeland. These lands include the area presently occupied by the Interstate 40 corridor and the cities of Flagstaff, Winslow and Holbrook. As highlighted in Clemmer s subtle explication of events, the Traditionalists were co-opted by the Hopi Tribal Council in this instance, as the Council finally accepted the Traditionalist position that the cash settlement should never be accepted. Although the US government insisted that restitution for its illegal seizure of Hopi lands had to be in cash, this legal precedent was then violated in PL 93-531, which explicitly provided that no cash settlement could possibly be taken as restitution for lands occupied by Navajo.

It is important for Big Mountain partisans to understand the real substance of the "land dispute." It is equally important to recognize that the bottom line at the point of implementation is that innocent people are being punished for the sins of others, while the real perpetrator of land theft -- the U.S. government -- somehow rises above the fray as arbiter of the conflict it largely created, as enforcer of the "settlement" it engineered, and as the main beneficiary of the outcome. Clemmer makes all these points, but he leaves the linkages between them less than fully developed; thus, the argument falls short of coherent presentation. Further, Clemmer does not adequately describe the atmosphere of fear and loathing and impending doom that has been generated at Big Mountain and the other Navajo resistance communities as a major feature of the current situation (which has continued since the early 1970s). He concentrates instead on the apparently growing consensus among Hopis that the US government will (and should) act to evict Navajos who continue to resist the program. This omission has the effect of legitimizing both tribal councils, while simultaneously legitimizing another in a long series of colonial laws that have, in their entirety, pushed all Indians ever closer to the brink, despite their resistance strategies.

And why do we have all this to explain, in the end? At the close of Chapter 9, Clemmer reviews several competing explanations for the relocation, and he comes to a conclusion of how the expanding colonial empire instigates conflicts among the subordinated puppets it has created to represent its own competing interests in the modernization process. While I do not disagree with Clemmer on this point, he arrives at his conclusion having given extremely short shrift to the "energy connection" as part of a causal relationship. I agree that the evidence is scanty that Peabody Coal Company single-handedly engineered the relocation, but that possibility is not really the point. To speak of the "energy connection" is not necessarily to call "conspiracy" into question, either. Which is why a view of "confluence of interests" is more appropriate than "conspiracy," especially since that confluence is so vast as to approach the "system" level of analysis to which Clemmer subscribes.

The point that I think should be emphasized here is that within the enormity of the confluence of interests, there is a time-line of coming events projected generations into the future. There is also a lot of inertia developed in the flow of energy out of the Peabody mines and into the national power grid and into the national (and local) economy. That inertia is projected to continue indefinitely, but let s take 75 years, the period of the "leases" offered to Navajo resisters by the Hopi Tribal Council, as a rough indicator of what might be considered relevant. My hunch is that this period is probably fairly close to the time projected when the present extraction leases will be played out, and when the resources under Big Mountain will need to be brought on line. Two or three generations from now, in other words, when our grand-children and great-grand-children are coming of age, the expected Hopi and Navajo progeny will be handed the obligation to duke it out once more in determination of whether sacred lands are irrevocably transformed into another "national sacrifice area," and whether the Navajos, or the Hopis, or both peoples will be further devastated through ethnocidal policies. The context of that future moment is of course unknown, but given the current pressure to identify and allocate energy resources, which has been policy since the days of Project Independence in the mid-1970s, it seems reasonable to speculate that the pressure will be even greater at that time. I personally cannot imagine how a reasonable businessman would fail to overlook the significance of the Black Mesa coal deposits, were the coming generations to encounter their own problems, like oil shortages, in allocating control of energy. To begin the process of clearing the way through obstacles of such sticky importance as clear title to land would only be prudent. While I do not necessarily expect to see evidence of the energy connection brought to the surface at this moment, I would predict that eventually it will emerge, and then the greater truth will be understood. It seems to me that this is exactly what the Hopi resisters to energy development have been saying for a long time, according to Clemmer.

Clemmer s book appears just as another threatening chapter in the relocation story begins, and just in time to contribute to the effort to prevent another tragic and shameful episode in the further development of relations between Indians, the US government, and the non-Indian public (including Big Mountain partisans). Thanks to Clemmer, "the Hopis" are easier to understand in the relocation scenario, but the understanding is of something very messy indeed. I suspect that some Hopis will be distrustful of Clemmer s intent, since his book digs into material that Hopis regard as sensitive intellectual property. But such is the nature of this quest for the unvarnished and unrevised truth, an exhaustive effort to clarify the many cross-cutting dimensions of Hopi life. Clemmer performs a great service by informing us that the Navajo relocation is not the singular, all-consuming political issue at Hopi. Neither is energy development, nor even, perhaps, the development of the division or union between "Traditionals" and "Progressives." Although these issues have each developed in their distinctive ways, they have not been powerful enough to dissolve the bonds of clan, lineage and ceremony that manage yet to contain such divisive influences. Thanks to Clemmer, we know a piece of what is happening in Hopi today.

References Cited:

Iverson, Peter.


1981. The Navajo Nation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Sills, Marc.

1992. Ethnocide and Interaction Between States and Indigenous Nations: A Conceptual Investigation of Three Cases in Mexico, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Denver.