Hopi Celebration of Art and a Contemporary Lakota Practice

We are considering the role of creativity and art in calling forth what it means to be human.

Kwahu (eagle) kachina, Arizona, Hopi people, Honolulu Museum of Art. Photo by Hiart on Wikimedia Commons.

Among the Hopi peoples of the southwestern United States, writes Patricia Janis Broder in Hopi Painting: The World of the Hopis, art is integral to the sacred ceremonies and therefore to the universe itself. Ritual is key to the art of the indigenous peoples, it brings together all other arts, Broder writes:

All aspects of life, whether the rituals of daily existence or the sacred religious ceremonies, whether on a physical or a spiritual plane, have the same universal goals—harmony, fertility, and regeneration.

All of life is art, from combing one’s hair in the morning to raising food and children and preparing meals.

Universal harmony, fertility, and regeneration have always been and still are the dominant themes of Hopi painting, for artistic expression is but one aspect of Hopi life and it must be an integral part of the Hopi world. In the Hopi world it is impossible to separate the activities of daily life, religious observance, and artistic creation.* 

Clay jars crafted by Hopi potter Iris Nampeyo between 1900 and 1915 using ancient techniques. Denver Art Museum. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

The people who preceded the Hopi, the Anasazi, etched petroglyphs on cave walls; the symbol, design and subject matters depicted parallel those of the Hopi. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that Hopi painting, under Western influences, stepped outside religious ceremonies themselves.

Writes Broder: “Painting was always a communal occupation.” The oldest art in America includes painting, pottery, baskets, textiles, altar cloths, masks, ceremonial ritual, kachina dolls, and designs etched into kivas, caves, and rocks. The architecture of Old Oraibi dates to 1150 C.E. It is the oldest continuously inhabited village in North America.

Lead runners carry relay batons bearing sacred eagle feathers on the 500-mile Sacred Hoop Run. photo credits: Jennifer Jessum & Simon Joseph, Mitakuye Foundation.

A contemporary art as meditation event from the Lakota people which combines prayer and action is the 500-mile Sacred Hoop Prayer Run, an annual run that serves over 150 Lakota youth from Pine Ridge reservation, and surrounding areas, in South Dakota. 

As the youth run in 6 days of prayer, they are taught to turn to the ancient spiritual traditions and ceremonies of their ancestors to overcome the devastating effects of colonization, genocide, and poverty. 

A sneak-peek excerpt of the Mitakuye Foundation’s documentary on the 500-mile Sacred Hoop Run, A Wing and a Prayer.

The 500-mile relay follows a sacred loop around the Black Hills of South Dakota, and many other sacred sites in Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. 

At each stop they participate in prayer, ceremony, and traditional teachings to heal the abuses of the past and to mend the Sacred Hoop of the Lakota people for all future generations. 

The run is based on the Creation story of the Black Hills and the youth run in prayer for causes including: suicide, teen pregnancy, gang violence, sobriety, treaty rights, environmental causes, social activism, health, and to relieve the suffering of the people.” 

The Mitakuye Foundation offers a range of multidisciplinary programs for Lakota youth including suicide prevention, arts immersion, and physical and cultural training, as well as additional prayer run events. To donate, click HERE.

*Patricia Janis Broder, Hopi Painting: The World of the Hopis (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1978), p. 8.

Information on the Sacred Hoop Run provided by the Mitakuye Foundation.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, 226-228.

Banner Image: Young participants in the 500-Miles Sacred Hoop Run.

What are the goals of art in our dominant culture in America today—are they “harmony, fertility and regeneration” for the sake of the whole community?           
Or are they better named as money-making, fame, and profiteering for a few?
Do you derive energy and spirit from knowing about the Lakota run by young people?

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

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2 thoughts on “Hopi Celebration of Art and a Contemporary Lakota Practice”

  1. Avatar

    The well known Lakota visionary-holy man Nicholas Black Elk would be happy about the 500 mile Sacred Hoop run as his vision of putting the broken hoop back together with the people of the world coming together is happening right now. Running is motion meditation and/or contemplative prayer in action. We are all One. Thanks Matt!

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