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Hopi hotel showcases Arizona tribe’s culture

MOENKOPI, Ariz. – Tourists traveling the vast expanse of tribal lands in northern Arizona soon will have a venue to learn about the culture of one of the oldest indigenous tribes in America.

A $13 million hotel and conference center billed as the western gateway to the Hopi reservation is set to open late this year, where entertainment, lectures and demonstrations will provide non-Hopis with an insight into the tribe’s culture and traditions.

The Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, only the second hotel on the 1.6 million-acre reservation, is part of the largest development project undertaken by a single Hopi village. Besides bringing in cash and helping to educate tourists, the hotel will provide much-needed jobs for tribal members.

The name is a tribute to about 20 elders of the Upper Village of Moenkopi who painstakingly worked to regain part of the tribe’s ancestral homeland and wanted it to be a welcoming place for visitors.

About 7,000 Hopis live among 12 villages atop three mesas, each of which are independently governed and some of which are more insular than others. The remote reservation is surrounded by the much-larger Navajo Nation.

Hopis are known to have been in Arizona for 2,000 years, but their history dates back even further. The Hopis are believed to be descendants of the Anasazi, a prehistoric American Indian society that lived in the Four Corners area.

Tourists at the hotel will learn which villages, homes and ceremonies are open to them and where they might not be welcome. They’ll also learn when and where it is acceptable to take photographs.

“We’re not trying to create a do-not-do list for the people,” said Dan Honahni, president and chief executive of Moenkopi Developers Corporation Inc. “We want to be able to provide information which sensitizes them to the requirements of other villages as they visit them.”

The design of the 100-room hotel will be the first glimpse of Hopi culture for many first-time visitors. The colors blend naturally with the mesas and desert landscape. The fireplace is a local architect’s vision of the nearby hills and includes petroglyphs. The image of a turtle, central to many Hopi children’s stories, is inlaid at the bottom of the pool, and the hotel’s back doors open up to a kiva garden.

Display cases in the hotel’s lobby will show off the work Hopis are best known for, such as carved kachina dolls, polychrome pottery and jewelry.

Land at the junction of highways 160 and 264 was identified for commercial development in 1981. A sewage treatment plant and travel center already have been built, and developers hope to use revenue from the hotel to finance public housing, a bank and a business complex where tribal members can sell their arts and crafts, said hotel general manager Randy Wolff.

The hotel will allow for large gatherings of not only Hopis but members of the neighboring Navajo Nation that aren’t always possible on the reservations. The hotel lies directly across the highway from the Navajo community of Tuba City.

Honahni also envisions the hotel as a way for visitors to learn about Hopi agriculture and ranching by arranging meetings with other Hopis while they are planting, irrigating or harvesting crops or branding cattle. He likens it to the 1991 film “City Slickers,” where actor Billy Crystal learns about being a cowboy.

“The same idea, I’m pushing for out here,” Honahni said.

Levi Esquerra, director for Center for American Indian Economic Development at Northern Arizona University, said the project shows that opportunities exist for tribes to develop their economies.

The entire development project is expected to create 400 jobs when complete.

“It creates momentum when you see one project go up, then the next one becomes more believable and credible in the people’s eyes.”





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