- Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain Between Indian and American by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert
Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert tells an illuminating Indigenous and American history in his study of Hopi runners from the mesas of modern-day Arizona. Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain Between Indian and American demonstrates how Hopi runners' participation in American competitive running from 1908 to 1936 challenged non-Native observers to understand Hopi people in contexts beyond usual confining stereotypes of "primitive" Native people. Americans came to accept Hopi runners as actors in an important American enterprise—competitive marathon running—that had domestic and international implications in the construction and projection of American national identity. The runners themselves participated in this national project while maintaining their cultural identity as Hopis who strived to run "with happy hearts" for a multitude of spiritual and historical reasons.
The monograph opens with an overview of running in Hopi culture, from ceremonial ritual and prayer to practical matters of transportation. Sakiestewa Gilbert provides several examples of the ways outsiders, such as explorers, government and military officials, missionaries, ethnographers, and tourists encountered and commented on Hopi running. Those who ventured to Hopiland often proclaimed that Hopis were likely the best runners on earth, sparking great interest in these athletes and their culture.
Chapters then follow Hopi stories beyond the mesas. The author employs a theme of leaving and returning home to illustrate the continuity of Hopi running in ancestral homelands, as some Hopis left the reservation to visit Midwestern and Eastern cities, served terms in Alcatraz prison, became pupils at government boarding schools designed [End Page 414] to intimidate and assimilate Native students, and ran in American city marathons. The travelers, both forced and voluntary, remained rooted in their cultural identity as Hopi runners who ran for their home villages, Indigenous nation, and Hopi religion, even as they publically represented schools, cities, and the United States (which was yet to formally extend citizenship to Native people for most of the book's timeline).
Hopi Runners contains stories about many individual athletes. This approach serves as a corrective to biographies that have not contextualized athletes' experiences in all the complexity of intersecting cultural and institutional loyalties. At other times, it invites the reader to question why some internationally known athletes have often been forgotten in mainstream histories of American running. A chapter is dedicated to the story of Olympian Louis Tewanima, who won a silver medal and set an American record at the 1912 Olympics. Tewanima, forced to attend Carlisle Industrial Indian School, ran within a system designed to control him but used it toward his own aims, which included competing in far-away and expensive races to which he would otherwise lack access. Stories of other athletes reveal similar dynamics, proving that Hopi athletes were agents of their own destinies in the modern sports scene, earning medals and headlines while continuing a sacred cultural tradition. Additional chapters cover the careers of students at multiple off-reservation boarding schools, such as Phoenix Indian School, the Teller Institute in Colorado, and the Sherman Institute in California.
Sakiestewa Gilbert contrasts these stories with those of great Hopi runners who remained at home in the Arizona mesas, running free from the influences of white coaches and institutionalized training regimes. Many of these runners, often older than boarding school students, could beat the likes even of Tewanima on Hopi home turf. Such meetings revealed generational tensions born of the complex web of loyalties different runners navigated as they crossed state and national boundaries to run.
An epilogue traces Hopi running through the present, proving its continuity beyond its most visible and celebrated heyday. Four appendices, which include additional Hopi commentary and primary source material, close the monograph. At book's end, the author has walked his reader through a long tradition of Hopi running, giving voices to the runners and many observers.
Sakiestewa Gilbert is a sound authority on this history. A member of the Hopi Nation, he combines Hopi knowledge and perspective with historical...