I live in the Village of Kykotsmovi, located in northern Arizona on the Hopi Indian Reservation, where sandstone mesas stand high over the valleys and sandy washes. As a child I was raised among my great grandparents and beloved elders who were always busy caring for and visiting their families, weaving baskets, cooking, and gathering medicines and seasonal foods. These elders were my first teachers and I miss them greatly. Although many of the elders did not have a formal education, they possessed great knowledge and made a life for themselves that was filled with great love, joy, and family. It has always been my dream to be just like them one day.
In 2004 I helped form a youth leadership project, which grew into a community initiative called Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture (HTP). The initiative is committed to maintaining our distinct identity and ways of life as Hopi people, so we may pass this knowledge to future generations.
Permaculture is an ecological, holistic, and sustainable design system and philosophy for creating living spaces. It is a viable method for finding sustainable solutions to modern problems, and has been successfully used around the world to build beautiful natural homes, grow food, revive deserts, build community, and much more. The essence of permaculture is its three principles: Care of the Earth, Care of the People, and Share the Surplus. I was fortunate to be raised with these teachings on the reservation.
With the founding of HTP, I have witnessed significant changes in my community. When I look at the landscape, I see rabbitbrush, snakeweed, Mormon Tea, and four-wing saltbush, and newly planted fruit trees standing proud. I see more birds, bees, insects, lizards, and wildlife. I see more young people farming with their families, and being outspoken about their knowledge. I see local schools planting orchards and building greenhouses, and teachers who incorporate permaculture into their curricula.
Since time immemorial, the Hopi people have lived on our traditional homelands as peaceful and humble farmers. Hopi have subsisted on and continue to cultivate varieties of corn, beans, squash, melons, pumpkins; heirloom fruits; native fruiting shrubs, like sumac berries; and medicinal seasonal plant foods. Our health and nutrition depends on our deep intimate knowledge of our homeland and our relationship with the spiritual forces of nature. This life revolves around the cultivation, care, and collection of seeds, fruits, roots, greens, berries, and the plants and trees that give us shelter, heat, and comfort. In this way we lived in accordance with the original and spiritual instructions of our elders. We see this process as spiritual growth, and our health and nutrition adapt to this growth.
It was not long ago that our community of about 8,000 people saw a decline in the health of our community members and use of traditional farming practices. The introduction of mass-produced and commodity foods— imposed in the beginning by the federal government, and more recently by international commercial food industries—has significantly changed our life way and path as Hopi people, and has greatly contributed to the increase of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity in our communities, and the loss of biodiversity, including ancient heirloom seeds. Although some Hopi continue to practice traditional farming, most people rely on food bought from nearby cities and government commodity foods for their subsistence.
Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture aims to provide the Hopi people with the training and education necessary to develop healthy strategies for strengthening food security. Since 2004 we have hosted workshops, where community members come together to share, learn, replant fruit orchards, build family gardens, restore artesian springs, and develop composting systems. In 2009, over 200 Hopi children youth, parents, grandparents, school administrators, and visitors planted over 100 trees at a local high school—in 60 mph winds! This kind of commitment is inherent in our culture as Hopi people.
Through our work, villages, schools, clans, and families continue traditional Hopi values of Sumi’nangwa and Nami’nangwa, which mean “to help others selflessly for the good of everyone.” In addition, we are rekindling interest in relearning traditional skills, principles, and values that have been overlooked in recent decades.
Our focus is on the next generation— small children, teens, and young adults. Hopi youth are immersed in a world full of ceremonial teachings, ecological knowledge and wisdom, and family responsibilities. They also are absorbed by a lifestyle that is very different their own parents and grandparents. Television, media, and mainstream culture have become a huge part of Hopi life, and are shaping the ideas and identities of Hopi youth today. Many young people no longer have connections to the land.
HTP has created youth programs, such as the Youth in Sustainability Leadership Project and the Hopi Permaculture Apprenticeship Program that allow Hopi youth and community to connect with place, family, culture, and subsistence. When youth are engaged in activities that strengthen their minds and bodies, their spirits are awakened to the beauty of the world around them. Our program allows youth to be creative, to be helpful, to learn ways to cultivate and grow, and to be able to do so in a supportive environment. One of our participants, who has participated in our youth programs for over 10 years is now studying to be an herbalist, and hopes to open an herb shop in his village one day.
The Youth in Sustainability Leadership Project is a summer program that focuses on youth leadership, community service learning projects, food justice, permaculture, and traditional arts and culture. Youth, ages 12-18, gain hands-on experience with the guidance of local farmers, builders, artisans, and tree experts.
The Hopi Permaculture Youth Apprenticeship Project is an eight-week intensive training program that supports emerging adults ages 18-30 in developing leadership skills and implementing sustainable ecological development within the Hopi community. Participants eventually become youth mentors and teach permaculture workshops. Our elementary kids grow food at school, and the littlest ones work side-by-side with their parents planting fruit trees at the Kwangwa’Tsoki Orchard.
I am passionate about HTP because I want to be a part of a solution to ensure that my community will be able to thrive and flourish. Working with children is a kind reminder that no matter how much knowledge and academic achievement we gain in our lives, the world is so immense that we can never truly say that we know it all.
It has always been my dream to be able to live in my village and to contribute to my community. My vision is to support the growth and development of a new generation of Hopi permaculture leaders who have the tools, training, and practical experience needed to promote a healthier Hopi community. By remembering who we are as Hopi People —through Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture —we will be able to flourish and find solutions to the many obstacles and challenges that we face as a community.
Lilian Hill is Hopi from the village of Kykotsmovi and a member of the Tobacco (Pipwungwa) clan. Lilian has studied at the North American School of Natural Building and at Northern Arizona University’s Applied Indigenous Studies Department, focusing on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. She has traveled the world advocating for the rights of indigenous people and environmental justice. Along with her husband and four children, Lilian has built an earthen home in her village utilizing permaculture. Visit Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture.