I am very fortunate to have my father who gave me the opportunity to live a Hopi life and still supported my education. My mother, Nuvawaysi, died when I was 5 years old; therefore my paternal grandmother, Qöyamö, helped my father, Honqötö, raise me. Qöyamö did not speak much English so we spoke Hopi at home. Keams Canyon is where the Hopi Agency, BIA is located. My father was employed by the BIA Roads Department, so we lived in government housing. My weekends were spent at the village doing chores and visiting with my maternal grandparents. The chores were hauling water from nearby springs or simply draining water from barrels. I brought wood and coal indoors; this was for heating and cooking. Occasionally I would bring wood to the piki house and to the bread ovens, that's if a ceremony was coming up. I helped with preparing Hopi foods and I also worked the corn and bean fields with my father.
The Hopi Tribe recently adopted our written language, or the orthography, and I had the opportunity to design the first Hopi language curriculum. There is so much to be shared with our people, most importantly the language, because it is our entrance into the next world. Hopilavayi pas himu – the Hopi language is really important. All of our ceremonies within our tradition are in Hopi – the talks, songs, rituals, and initiations. In order to understand, we must know the language. Hopi is our life, not just our name. Hopi language has so many levels. For example, the verb ‘to like’ has four words to express different aspects – like the taste, admire, adore, and enjoy/appreciate. If we do not know these things, we cannot know our own culture.
I was told that upon entrance into the next world I would be asked in Hopi my name and if I do not speak the language, then I will not join my family and others who are speakers of the language. I will be directed to go on another path. According to Terrance Honventewa who is now deceased, one of the requirements for entering that new world, as revealed in the Life Plan itself, will be knowledge of the Hopi language. “You never forget your Hopi heritage.” Even though you are far removed physically from the Hopi reservation, there is always that spirit that is with you. If you are traveling far and wide in this country, the songs that you have learned throughout your lifetime, starting from a young man, a young lady – those songs will forever be with you. Learning them is the oral tradition. Nobody ever writes down the songs they’ve composed.
Hopi may be the language of the heart, the language from which Hopi find spiritual renewal, but English is the language of the land in which we live. Not learning Hopi is, in effect, an unwitting way of giving the white man power over Hopi lives. One must learn the white man’s ways not to become more like the white man, but rather to be able to pick what is best from them and discard what might be harmful to the Hopi way of life. If we use things the right way then we can preserve it, this world. The Hopi way of life is prayer and communication with the creator is Hopi. Culture is the way of life provided to us by the creator. Prophecy is the guidance.
Hopi language is sacred. It is subtle. For unlike our white American brothers, who often use language to mask their feelings and skirt sensitivity issues, Hopi people say precisely what they mean in a language designed to express many things for which there are no English equivalents. A simple greeting can tell a visitor whether he is truly welcome or merely being tolerated.
The Hopi language is more than just a method of communicating on a day-to-day basis. Although Hopi ancestors left their clan markings and other symbols all over the ancient homelands during their migrations, the Hopi legends, prophecies and the language itself have been passed down from generation to generation orally, relying entirely on the language of Hopi forefathers to give it color and excitement and depth. Our language is everything. It connects us to our ancestors.