Inquiring Minds - Hopi Footprints

Flagstaff, AZ – Hopi teens, elders and anthropologist Dr. Wolf Gumerman are in step with Footprints of the Ancestors.

For thousands of years, Hopi Indians have inhabited the arid Southwest. They've carved out a colorful existence in the high desert and kept their rich culture alive through rituals, songs, and stories. But Dr. Wolf Gumerman, Director of the NAU Honors Program, says those voices from the past are becoming quieter as fewer Hopi youth are speaking the language.

"What's at stake is really a loss of culture," he says. "One of our elders Gilbert Nasayama was talking to the kids and he told them, If you don't speak your language, you're not Hopi, you're just another Indian, you're not Hopi.' That's a hugely powerful statement. Just imagine, if someone said if you don't speak that language, you're not part of the culture."

So Gumerman is working to help connect Hopi youth to their culture. With Hopi elders leading the way, Gumerman and archaeologists are creating a path to the past through Footprints of the Ancestors. This program transports Hopi teenagers to significant ancestral sites like Mesa Verde, Homolovi and Chaco Canyon.

"A lot of tourists go to these archaeological sites," Gumerman explains, "but it's really special to go to the sites with the Hopi elders and the youth. The elders have stories about these places, they have songs about these places. We get a different feel for what it might have been like prehistorically."

While ancestors may have left their footprints, Gumerman hopes these young people will make their mark without leaving their heritage behind.