Health and Tradition among Hopi Women Cornelia Butler Flora, Iowa State University

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Health and Tradition among Hopi Women

Cornelia Butler Flora, Iowa State University

Matt Livingston, Pu'tavi and University of Arizona Extension

Iva Honyestewa, Pu'tavi, Second Mesa

Harrissa Koiyaquaptewa, Pu'tavi, Third Mesa

Abstract: This paper is based on participatory action research over a 6-year period with the Hopi non-profit, Pu’tavi, and the Hopi tribal government. Discussing the functions of Hopi food based on a community capitals framework, Hopi women discover that health that come from the traditional system of food production, preparation, eating and the active lifestyle involved in those activities. Yet that knowledge alone is not enough. What was in place that made healthy lifestyles possible in the past? And what must change in the present to make such healthy lifestyle choices available?

We distinguished the key structures that the community presented in terms of Community Capitals. Major capitals that contribute to Hopi women’s health include natural capital as much of the food is gathered, cultural capital as food is at the heart of Hopi language and tradition and ceremonies, human capital in terms of health and knowledge and knowledge sharing, and social capital in terms of the sharing of food, knowledge about the food and collaboration in the growing and preparation of food. Political capital may be one of the weakest links that includes relating food, health and Hopi women to the tribal, county, state and national decision makers who make decisions about standards based on dominant society norms and values, set the rules under which those standards are imposed, and enforce those rules, often through food distribution systems.
Built capital is of a very special nature for Hopi women and food production. It involves everything from field preparation and moisture preserving structures to food storage, food preparation, places and sacred places for eating.
Finally, Hopi women see traditional foods related to financial capital through the savings they get by not being dependent on the market economy. Some of the women are able to make traditional Hopi dishes and sell them to their friends and neighbors in preparation for ceremonies and everyday living.
This research project continues in terms of the action involved in the production, distribution and implementation of a new Hopi cookbook that emphasizes how to gather correctly and how to cook traditional Hopi food, as well as Hopi village organizations working to integrate traditional Hopi food and the cultural aspects of it into schools and elder centers.
Obesity has increased alarmingly over the last 30 years in the Hopi/Tewa nation, as in many other American Indian nations. Increase in weight is associated with increased rates of diabetes and high blood pressure. Rapid, although partial, intrusion of the consumption patterns of industrialized society had led to major lifestyle changes on the reservation, despite the Hopi’s firm commitment to their ancestral traditions. Working with Hopi/Tewa organizations dedicated to health and wellness, we asked Hopi women to tell us about traditional foods and their experiences with them. From those conversations, we analyzed the ways that Hopi women valued traditional foods and the ways they found to include them in their diets. But we also found that food and its meanings is a part of all aspects of Hopi life.

There is substantial evidence that the traditional diets of Native peoples contributed to their health and fitness, and that the “modern” diet of chips, fatty meats, sodas, and fried foods has contributed to an increase in obesity-related ailments, such as diabetes, stroke, gall stones, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and high blood pressure (Welty 1991; Broussard et al. 1991). In-depth studies of traditional foods reveal a diet that was modest in terms of caloric intake, but balanced in terms of nutrients (Kavena 1990). Calloway, Giauque, and Costa (1974) report that samples of traditional Hopi and Tohono O'odham (Papago) foods were consistently higher in essential minerals than were the substituted federal commodity foods. The Hopi culinary practice of adding ashes of green plants to various corn foods raised still further the already superior content of most minerals, notably calcium and iron (Wirsing et al. 1985).

Native American childhood obesity has increased rapidly since 1955 (Story et al. 1999). It is likely that the measured increase in the obesity of Navajo school children between 1955 and 1988 (Sugarman et al. 1990) was mirrored in the unmeasured increase in obesity of their neighbors, the Hopi.

We attempt to discover how women can respond to the negative impacts of food deserts on the reservation by gathering, preparing and serving native food with the participation of their children. Such activities can have a major impact on children’s eating and activity preferences (Gillespie, 2010; Gillespie and Gillespie, 2007).

Multiple resources have been mobilized on reservations by Cooperative Extension, U.S. Forest Service, Indian Health Service and not-for-profit organizations to return diets to the traditional foods (Struthers et al. 2003; Bachar et al. 2006; De Cora 2001). These programs not only stress the nutrient benefits of reclaiming traditions food, but also reclaiming the cultural traditions that support the production and consumption of those foods. A number of tribes have efforts underway to revitalize traditional foods supported by the First Nation’s Development Institute’s Native Agriculture and Food System’s Initiative. Tribal colleges and Land Grant Universities are developing programs around American Indian foods, both cultivated and gathered. In this article, we describe how Hopi women describe the relations to traditional foods, the value they give to traditional foods, and the ways that they access and use them. W

The Hopi and Tewa among all the American Indian tribes have been particularly effective in maintaining their languages, cultures, and foods. Because of the arid environment and extreme weather conditions, once the Spaniards were driven out during Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (Silverberg, 1970), there was no European settlement on what is now their reservation until the Mormons settled at Tuba City in the late 1870s. The relative isolation and the fact that they were not removed from the heart of their world, although their access to many important sacred sites was systematically limited (Cohen 1987), meant that many cultural traditions were intact, although under constant attack.


Research is an act of social change – negative or positive. Undertaking research with Native Americans requires acknowledging the non-neutral aspects of the research act. Hopi and Tewa have been subject to intensive and intrusive studies since the 1880s. The researchers, however sympathetic, were outsiders assessing the Hopi. Hopi traditions, where food, agriculture and community were central and highly interrelated, were a source of profit for the Santa Fe Railroad, which brought in tourists to observe their ceremonies, and of hypothesis testing or descriptive analysis by anthropologists and other scholars. Perhaps the most complete study, Culture in Crisis: A Study of the Hopi Indians, by Laura Thompson looked at “five interrelated dimensions for purposes of structural analysis: 1) ecological; 2) somatic; 3) sociologic; 4) psychological; and 5) symbolic” (Thompson 1950:12).

As the Hopi’s gained sovereignty, they limited outside scholar access to the villages, correctly questioning the use of Hopi data for non-Hopi ends, which at times contributed to the destruction of the sacred places most important for cultural continuity.

As a result, our study depended heavily on close interaction with the tribe and village representatives in order to create a culturally appropriate design. Village representatives made up the core research teams for a series of the three different research-action projects which provide the data for this analysis. The first was a study of Hopi farmers to determine their production and marketing practices (in which we learned that Hopi food is not marketed) to increase the value retained in the Native community (Moon, Flora and Livingston 2003). All seventy-seven interviewees but two were men, and we learned that women made crucial decisions about what to plant and how to process and store the crops. This study was funded by USDA/CSREES/ Community Food Projects. Our second ( Livingston et al. 2006) and third studies recognized the crucial role of women in determining the availability and use of traditional foods and were funded by USDA Economic Research Service’s RIDGE program through Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office of the University of Arizona.

In these studies, representatives from each mesa were recruited to help design the survey instruments, the interview schedule and focus group protocol, identify the sample through a quota sampling frame, write up the interviews in English (Hopi was the language primarily used in the interviews, as English has limited utility in that complex and diverse system), and code the interviews, transforming open-ended answers into generally dichotomous variables. They also learned how to use descriptive statistics and generate testable hypotheses based on the data. The representatives conducted interviews in both Hopi and English, depending on the preference of the individuals being interviewed. Many interviews went back and forth between the two languages. Since Tewa speakers also speak Hopi, and since they live on the same mesa, our Tewa interviewer was able to capture those conversations as well. Interviews were conducted by two Hopi/Tewa representatives together. Our focus groups were a rich mix of Hopi and English. Both representatives conducting the focus groups had participated as reserachers in the Food Access survey, and one had also participated in the Hopi Farmer Survey.

In each study, input into the questions in the interview guide and the data analysis were gathered from a range of Hopi and Tewa stakeholders. In each case, our Hopi village representatives determined the sampling frame and did the sampling, entered the data into SPSS for Windows and created charts and graphs to share with the villages and the tribe. In the second and third studies, they also created the interview and focus groups guides and the coding protocol. Our goal was to leave them with the capacity to continue to conduct surveys to serve local needs.

Our first commitment in the research was to return our findings to the communities for their use. We used a methodology of listening sessions that the North Central Research Center for Rural Development has found effective in understanding the potential of e-commerce on reservations, which included, but was not limited to, the Hopi reservation (Bregendahl and Flora 2003). As Byers (2003) points out, there is concern about the validity of survey research in discussing the highly probable response biases in the well-supported Pathways study of American Indian children’s food intake and physical activity. Appreciative Inquiry (Reed, 2007) served as the basis for the focus group questions. The method encourages story telling and sharing, which works well in such settings (Cantrell, 2001).

In this analysis of the rich data from the surveys and focus groups, we focus on the intersection of community capitals that the women recognized as important for their own and their children’s and grandchildren’s health. Corn was a unifying force in this study. “Corn is life and piki is the perfect food” (Simmons 1942: 52). As Lee (1957) makes clear, “…true Hope life cannot go on without corn. Corn functions as food, but that is only one of its functions. No child can be born with security, nor live through the first hazardous twenty days of life, without corn. The entire process of growing and harvesting corn, in fact, is vital for a meaningful life, since the entire religious cycle of ceremonials is bound with the growing cycle of corn.” (Lee 1957:109).

While our initial survey focused on foods, women participating in the focus groups spontaneously pointed to the changes in physical activity related to cultural changes. Our participants showed a clear understanding of the environmental factors that had changed Hopi people from lean and fit to obese and unhealthy.

From the suggestions of the women interviewed, our team turned a mimeographed recipe book, Healthy Hopi Recipes, into an illustrated cookbook with an additional section on wild ingredients and how to pick them without damaging future growth. The team then went to each Hopi and Tewa village (these are the traditional governing units of their people, rather than the tribe), discussed the results of the research, did a cooking demonstration of recipes from the cookbook (which included eating the food prepared and discussing it), and presented a cookbook to each interviewee.

Community Capitals Framework

Previous research has shown the impact of mobilizing multiple capitals for community sustainability (Flora et al. 2008; Fey et al. 2006; Flora and Flora 2007). There is also increasing evidence that obesity is an environmental issue, rather than one solved only by medical intervention or education (Flora and Gillespie, 2009; IOM, 2005; IOM 2007). Our interest in this analysis is to determine the capitals that Hopi single mothers mobilize, and for what reasons, in order to get access to, prepare, and share traditional foods and how that resource mobilization changes the environment for a healthy lifestyle and how to use existing tribal organizations and the cookbook to enhance Hopi women’s options to make healthy choices for themselves and their families..

Natural Capital1

Natural capital is critical for Hopi survival. It includes land, weather, hydrology, topography, and biodiversity. Women determine land access to men of their clan, which includes unmarried males of direct decent and men who have married women of the clan. Traditionally, men and women have had different knowledge and use of natural capital, with the men, through hunting, having knowledge of fauna and flora, often bringing home wild edible plants that they find near their fields or while coming and going from the field. Important nutrients and seasonings have come from wild plants and animals.

This division of knowledge and labor by generation and gender is illustrated by these participant statements. They also illustrate the precarious nature of this knowledge.

I don’t really know much about plants. If my mom mentions it I don’t pay attention. When they ask me to go with them that’s when I get involved. I picked nanakofsi-oregano. My husband picks the wild spinach. (Hopi, early 40s)

Probably every once in awhile I cooked the wild greens. I learned from my husband the wild greens. (Wild) spinach we had he gets at his field. I go out but I don’t know what it looks like, if I go by myself I wouldn’t know what to pick. (Hopi, early 30s)

All the focus groups were aware of natural capital as a source of food. But they saw this changing, particularly as a source of protein. Many of the women mentioned that now there is no one in their family that hunts. Others pointed out that one of their favorite dishes, rabbit stew, was no longer possible as the rabbits had “a plague”, which meant that the wild rabbits were no longer “good for you”. This shift in natural capital removed one of the favorite meats from the menu, and meant substituting domesticated meat, particularly sheep or pork, which required cash rather than skill to acquire. While men hunted, the matrilineal ties meant that nephews would often provide wild meat for single mothers. But there were sheep raisers within some of the clans that provided a source of sheep for traditional foods. Women were highly involved in the slaughter and de-assembly of the local range fed sheep, and worked with the men to make blood sausage and other nutritious foods with every bit of the sheep’s carcass.

The women in the interviews and focus groups were proud of the use of natural capital in traditional foods. They pointed out that traditional foods:

  • Utilize a wide diversity of wild plants and animals.

  • Do not use industrial products.

  • Depend upon the rain and hydrology.

  • Maintain cultivated biodiversity through saving seeds from previous harvests.

  • Utilize every part of the corn: pollen, silk, fungus, stover, green leaves, dry leaves, cob, and the kernels.

Wild plants are still consumed by the Hopi and traditionally provided a source of fresh produce for the population (Hough 1899; Whiting 1939). Our respondents showed great interest in maintaining and reviving knowledge and use of wild food sources.

Tumble weeds was one that we cooked called Russian thistle. It was pretty good. It tasted like spinach. Me and Ed went down below looking for the real young weeds. I got corn husk and that’s what I wrapped the tumble weeds in. I added no ung tus havu [another wild plant] to it for flavoring. I cooked it like tamale. I was hesitant to taste it. It was good. Richard was really eating it good. I gave it to my mom. She said it was good. Also gave to sister and her son. Now I know I won’t starve some day. (Focus group at Iskasokpu)

Some of the women were concerned about the loss of traditional knowledge about where to find the plants and how to use them. Officials in the Hopi Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are concerned that poor harvest techniques may keep these important endemic species from reproducing. Too often some plants are completely removed from sites due to over-picking. The DNR does encourage community members to make use of the plant resources and their Office of Range Management/Land Operations technicians do make presentations to schools and community groups about these edible wild plants. The Cookbook includes this information and illustrations of wild plants and discussion of how to find them and pick them, as well as how to prepare them. In the village meetings, women elders found particular delight in recounting how they used wild plants, including discussion of how much pre-preparation was necessart,

Cultural Capital

Cultural capital provides a particular manner to see the world, define what has value, and what things are possible to change. Cultural hegemony has resulted in the devaluing of the cultural capital of the Hopi. It includes world view, language, ways of knowing, and what is possible to change. While acceptance of natural capital has been important for Hopi survival, there was been consistent concern and debate among the Hopi as to whether the negative impacts of cultural intrusion should be accepted, resisted, or adapted (Thompson and Joseph 1947; Dozier 1951). Most interventions on Indian reservations link improvement in health status with cultural capital (see, for example, Penn-Kennedy and Barber 1995; Cantrell 2001).

Our respondents stressed the intersection between traditional Hopi foods and cultural capital.

  • It allows for the transfer of traditional customs.

  • It is part of being Hopi.

  • It is part of Hopi culture.

  • It has a spiritual meaning.

  • It brings harmony.

  • It is utilized in ceremonies and initiations.

  • It identifies Hopi womanhood.

  • It is given when a woman participates in ceremonies, weddings, etc.

  • One receives traditional seed from the katsinas.

  • One participates in ceremonies to get a good harvest.

  • Traditional food uses the ancestral language.

Language retention was extremely important to our focus group participants. Not all of them felt fluent in Hopi or Tewa, and food gave them a way to be connected to their ancestral language. In our village meetings, there were generally discussion around the correct pronunciation of the names of native foods, as each village has its own variations in the language. Even the Hopi Dictionary is faulted as “being from Third Mesa” by women from other mesas. And as the presentations were often done by young Hopi and Tewa interns in tribal food health programs, they often had trouble with the names as well.

There are a variety of ways that bahanai foods are introduced to the Hopi, which have cultural and human capital implications. The first was commodity foods. Commodity food used at the Hopi Reservation provided an outside source of foods to the Hopi community. From comments made by Focus Group participants, these foods in and of themselves did not affect the use of traditional Hopi foods to any great extent. Much of the commodity material that came onto the reservation was often as a trade item from the Navajo communities surrounding the Hopi Reservation. One of the Bacavi participants stated,

I didn't know what canned food was. The only thing I remember is the butter and cheese. My grandfather used to work on the Navajo Rez and she would bring it home. I never did get commodity food unless someone gives it to me.

A participant from Shungopovi commented,

We used to get commodity foods like powdered milk, cheese, canned meats. My Navaho grandma used to give us her commodity foods. After dances when the dance is over and all this bread is given out; we used to go to Pinion to trade commodity foods for our bread and piki. I remember using the canned chicken to make tamales. It’s easy to make.

The questionable availability of these foods, along with the easily available commercial foods, did have an effect on the use of Hopi foods. Part of this included the increased participation of women in a wage economy and having less time to prepare traditional meals. Participants were asked how the availability of non-Hopi foods affects their use of traditional foods. A respondent from Bacavi Village said, “I grew up on commodity food. Yes, it does make it difficult because it is readily available.” Another person from Shungopovi echoes that comment,

We used to get commodity foods, powdered eggs, dry milk cheese, roast beef, sugar juices. There wasn't anything really healthy like greens. There were mainly ready made foods. Store makes it not easy to cook traditional foods, mainly the grease I guess. We mainly eat bahana foods. Only on special occasions we eat traditional foods. Like noqkwivi we could make any time but we don’t. I don’t think the store makes it easy.

Other comments also expressed the concern that easy access to non-Hopi foods make it less likely that the meal being prepared will be a traditional Hopi meal.

Hopi children are far more exposed to non-Hopi foods such as hamburgers, cheese puffs, dill pickles with kool-aid, pizza and a host of other foods. Their tastes make it difficult for some families to have the Hopi foods because the kids prefer the non-Hopi high sugar and salt content. At Shungopovi Village, one individual said, “I cook the sheep’s head – teaching kids to eat these foods, intestines. Lots of meat – stew – kids wanted other foods – When I was a child we had rabbit meat. Changed a lot, I go out to eat a lot, but I have to watch what I order.

Another commented,

Kids are always in a rush, we eat a lot of spam but it has a lot of fat. Buy mainly frozen vegetables. I don't buy corn and spinach in cans. Like liver and fish. Kids like. Eating habits have changed a lot because they’re always rushing. Weekends able to cook more oatmeal – Changed, we had a big family. Eat all together.

The respondents attributed the cultural change in food consumption to the pressures of modern life – speed more important than the food itself or the cultural and social capital traditional Hopi food preparation and consumption entails.

Some of the women explained that attending boarding school had hastened their exposure the fast food. The food in the dormitories was so bad that they would walk across the street to fast food franchises, and fill up on hamburgers and fries. That pattern was perpetuated in the convenience stores that came to the reservations in the 1970s.

Human Capital

Human capital represents the skills and abilities of each individual. Health is the base upon which other individual capacities such as education, leadership, and self-esteem are based. The women in our interviews and focus groups stress the special ways that Hopi food contributed to their human capital. They described it as

  • Healthy

  • Delicious

  • Bringing energy and survival

  • Helping in the transition of puberty

  • Allowing us to teach our sons and daughters

  • Increasing our knowledge of where we live as we gather wild foods

The ability to cook Hopi food is a valued aspect of Hopi women’s human capital. Learning to make piki begins at a young age. It is messy and dangerous, and requires supervision and patience on the part of the adult involved, usually a grandmother

The pikiii stone was right in there in the back room of the kitchen. She [my grandmother] would leave me a little of her piki batter and tell me to cool down her stone after she finished making piki. I was just about 8 or 9 years old. I remember making these little pikis about six inches long. The stone was still hot, so that I would be splattering the batter everywhere. Every time she made piki she would leave me some batter to cool down the stone. I was so proud. I used to take it to my other grandma who washed my hair off.

Our respondents reiterated that Hopi food was healthy food – and contrast that to the current foods eaten, particularly chips, fried foods, and pop, which they observed as changing from a seldom consumed treat to a ubiquitous item of constant consumption.

Many of our respondents went to boarding school or were with the Latter Day Saints placement program with Mormon families. In such situations, they learned to eat fast food and pizza, which they recognize as not as healthy as Hopi food. For these women, it took them out of the community during crucial years where they would otherwise be learning to cook more complex Hopi foods. One woman compared herself to her sisters, who did not go to boarding school or family placement. “Even now they make corn stew; I don’t even know how to do that.”

Others are proud of teaching their granddaughters – and grandsons – how to cook.

My oldest granddaughter learned how to cook Hopi food. She always wants blue marbles and piki. My daughters were about 7 years old when they learned how to make piki, so when they went through the grinding ceremonies they already knew how make piki.

Many of the women in the village meetings appreciated seeing how traditional food was cooked, and elders offered to help the younger women cook new dishes from the cookbook.

Social Capital

Social capital is key for women’s access to the ingredients for traditional food. Social capital involves mutual trust and collective reciprocity, generally built on the matrilineal clan. Social capital and cultural capital merged as women’s participation in preparing food for a variety of ceremonies meant that they also received traditional food, although there is a growing tendency of using purchased food in ceremonial gifts, which concerned some of the women greatly.

Traditional foods connect generations through both production and consumption and give an opportunity to demonstrate reciprocity.

  • Families share what they produce.

  • It permits women to repay others.

  • It connects the community.

  • Women can participate in planting and harvesting with their clan.

  • Women receive traditional food from their relatives.

  • Women learn to cook traditional food from their grandparents.

Women take food to the kivas for the men’s ceremonies and meetings. Many of our respondents were concerned that more and more “bahana” food was appearing in the kivas, rather than the simple Hopi fare that their husbands and uncles requested. The village meetings with the cooking demonstrations and the Cookbook provided a vehicle for discussion around bringing more traditional food to the male society gatherings – an important complement to women-led clans.

Political Capital

Political capital is the ability to influence the rules and regulations that determine access to resources and their presence in organizations that manage resources. The women were particularly concerned about the quality of food they received in the food boxes distributed through the villages. They felt they had no control and were clearly the “beneficiaries” of out-dated and unwanted food, as has been shown in studies of other food pantries32 (Tarasuk and Eakin 2005). While the interviews and focus groups yielded a number of possible collective actions that could increase single mother’s access to traditional food, the women in the project did not suggest ways to implement these actions. Suggestions included:

  • Women should have their own communal plots to grow traditional food.

  • Schools should serve traditional food in the cafeteria.

  • The community should provide a tractor to rent.

  • The villages should form coalitions of men to help single mothers produce traditional food.

School-based programs have made some difference in consumption of more healthy traditional foods (Davis et al. 1999; Cabellero et al. 2003). Women in the village meetings were particularly concerned about how to get traditional foods not only into the cafeteria, but into the Home Economics classes.

However, food decisions and procurement in the Hopi schools is done through an office in Albuquerque, and the meal plans are purchased from Sysco-Norvell. That results in school breakfast composed of pre-packaged sweet carbohydrates and fats, rather than blue marbles, a Hopi dish easy to prepare and serve. Ties into these food service contracts that are laden with food chosen for its uniformity and shelf life contributes to the obesity of Hopi and Tewa children and the food habits they take into adulthood. Even the bananas that are purchased are so hard that they are difficult to eat and more difficult to enjoy. Local women, even teachers and food service personnel, feel helpless to change this situation.

Financial Capital

Financial capital on the Hopi reservation means operating in the cash economy, something that outsiders have been pushing for over a century33 (Adams 1979). For single mothers, traditional food gave them a chance to separate themselves from the cash economy by being more self-reliant and gave them another art with which to earn money on the reservation by making and selling piki bread. These ways of generating and saving financial capital depended heavily on the networks provided by cultural and social capital.

The financial capital benefits the respondents mentioned included

  • Women are independent of purchased food.

  • Women help in the harvest and receive seed.

  • Women earn money by making traditional food – piki, etc.

While one would never purchase the products of Hopi agriculture, selling prepared traditional Hopi food – generally around a variety of dances and festivals – is culturally appropriate.

For example, one woman told of her cousin, a single mother attending college at the University of Northern Arizona. In order to finance this effort, she came home each weekend an made piki bread, purchased by other women in her village. Her father provided the corn, and she used her mother’s piki house. Her daughter sometimes was with her, learning the art of making piki bread. Other times, the daughter was with her grandmother, listening to stories or playing with her cousins. This income generation strategy was truly a village support system and highly related to cultural capital.

Built Capital

Build capital is the physical infrastructure that makes production of the other capitals possible. While the women valued their piki stones, piki houses, and gardens, they also noted the down side of built capital – decreased activity. They told stories of walking up the mesa when the school bus let them off on the bottom, of walking to the fields with their grandmothers and grandfathers, and the joy that walking together inspired in them. They reported that they did not like it at the time – but that they were very fit as a result. They appreciated the tractor in helping prepare the land, but also mentioned the traditional water harvesting and windbreaks that they helped put into the fields as they participated in the planting and the harvesting.

In the village meetings, the Diabetes Prevention Project offered the women chances to get more active through recreational programs geared toward their personal situation, helped by a personal trainer. Indian Health Services offers a Be Hopi, Be Healthy camp for children during the summer, with a focus on exercise.

The participants in our action research project saw the multiple values of traditional Hopi foods, and, as single mothers, found ways to access them through mobilizing natural, cultural, and social capital. Yet they were pessimistic about its future – and thus, the future of the health of the Hopi people. The insertion of industrial foods on the reservations is reinforced not only by private sector convenience stores, but by social sector institutions such as the schools and the food at the senior center. Based on our work in other communities, the next steps, if the women choose to take them, is to utilize the capitals where they are the strongest to build political capital through advocacy coalitions to increase awareness of Hopi foods, continue education around the benefits of Hopi food, expand the illustrated cookbook that shows how to prepare Hopi foods, and support classes where young people learn to cook the foods with their elders. From the stories the women told of their own involvement with Hopi foods, embedded knowledge – that which comes from physically gathering and preparing food in a social situation – is the best way to gain the human capital and cultural capital benefits of the traditional Hopi diet.

Yet on reservation work is not enough. The larger bureaucracies that provide food to children and elders need to be influenced as well.


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1 Part of the following discussion appears in Flora, et al. 2009.

i Bahana is the word used to refer non-Indians, particularly European Americans.

ii Piki is the basic staple bread in the Hopi/Tewa diet. Made of finely ground blue corn, salt, ash and water, The thin batter is then smeared by hand over a large flat baking stone that has been heated over a fire and coated with oil made from pounded squash, watermelon, or sunflower seeds or with sheep fat. The bread bakes almost instantaneously and is peeled from the rock in sheets so thin they are translucent. Piki bread can be eaten with every meal, and in the fields or while traveling, is a meal in itself with water. Making piki bread is a critical dimension of Hopi womanhood, and families take pride in their daughters’ ability to make it. It is ubiquitous at ceremonies.

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