- Ammon Hennacy and the Hopi Traditionalist Movement: Roots of the Counterculture’s Favorite Indians
About 2,400 feet above the desert floor in the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson, Arizona, standing among oaks, piñons, and junipers charred by a devastating 2003 forest fire, are a few remnants of an old federal prison facility. The location is now named the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site in honor of the brave Japanese American who contested and eventually overturned his convictions for resisting Japanese curfew and relocation during the anti-Japanese hysteria that ensued after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The former Tucson Federal Prison Camp had been created in 1939 as a low-security prison where inmates served their sentences in hard labor building the Catalina Highway that snakes its way through the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains of the Coronado National Forest. As war began, the prison housed conscientious objectors, draft resisters, Japanese American relocation resisters, unauthorized Mexican immigrants, and others. Among those imprisoned in the camp between 1941 and 1949 were a small number of Hopi Indians from northern Arizona who had been convicted of draft evasion when their religious objections to military service were rejected by the courts.1 The Hopi internees included two formally educated men, Chester Mote and Thomas Banyacya (then known as Thomas Jenkins), who would later become friends with Ammon Hennacy, a veteran conscientious objector of both world wars and a passionate advocate for pacifism and what he called “Christian anarchism.”2 Mote would sustain a correspondence with Hennacy for two years before [End Page 135] they met, as he—and subsequently Banyacya—gave an eager Hennacy access into Hopi politics for a half-dozen years as a partisan provocateur. From this privileged vantage point, Hennacy created a new politicized image of Hopi culture for the consumption of an emerging American counterculture.
This article explores Ammon Hennacy’s participation in Hopi politics and his role in popularizing a vision of Hopi culture among American radicals after World War II. Hennacy’s involvements at Hopi have largely escaped scholars’ attention, which is surprising, given that Hennacy has been recognized as one of “the spiritual progenitors of Sixties activism,” and many of his writings on Hopis have been accessible since the Fifties.3 The key to grasping Hennacy’s importance begins with recognizing that his arrival at Hopi in 1947 coincided with the emergence of a political faction that has come to be known in ethnographic writings as the Hopi Traditionalist Movement.4 Hennacy wrote about and on behalf of this faction without ever grasping what it really was, yet he himself was key to the movement’s success in gaining recognition off the reservation as “traditional Hopis.” Historian James Treat has illustrated the influence these “traditional” Hopis had on Native American activism in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. However, this insight needs to be squared with the ethnographic evidence that the Traditionalist Movement was one approach to tradition among many at Hopi, where traditional belief and practice did not consistently distinguish the movement’s followers from their political foes. New historical evidence developed here demonstrates that Hennacy’s flair for the dramatic and far-ranging connections to well-organized networks of media-savvy radicals and conscientious objectors––or COs as the latter were known––were crucial in forging important relationships between Hopis and non-Indians far from the reservation. That Hennacy did these things from the start of the Traditionalist Movement also revises our understanding of what this movement was. Just as Sherry L. Smith has recently exposed the commingling of the interests and actions of the Sixties hippies and Native American activists, the early history of the Hopi Traditionalist Movement can no longer be seen as a narrowly indigenous social phenomenon. It was multiethnic and multifaceted from the start, even as its participants conceived of it as Hopi.5
With new evidence on Hennacy, the rich body of ethnography on the Hopi Traditionalists will need some revision. The ethnographers who produced this work largely focused on Hopi actors, thereby missing Hennacy’s involvement. Richard Clemmer worked closely with the Traditionalists in the late Sixties and...