ceremonies of the Hopi tribe of the American Southwest, and the Assiniboine of the Northern Plains. The Assiniboine engage in the Sun Dance as one of their major ceremonies, while the Hopi engage in the Snake Dance as one of theirs. These dance ceremonies share many commonalities, but they contain major differences, as well. The Hopi were largely agricultural, living on mesas devoid of much moisture, while the Assiniboine were hunters, subsisting off the buffalo of the plains. These differences make up the disparity in their ceremonies, and they are important clues to their identity and way of life.
The Hopi Nation is one of the oldest Native American tribes in North America. They can trace their history in Northern Arizona, where their reservation is located, back to the 12th century, but they believe their history goes back much further than that. They are believed to have migrated to the desert southwest from Central America and Mexico, and at one time, they lived throughout the Southwest. Now, their reservation is located in Northeastern Arizona, lies partly in Navajo and Coconino counties, and is surrounded by the larger Navajo reservation. The Hopis live on a series of mesas, First, Second, and Third Mesa and their villages are scattered about on these mesas. Their villages are extremely old, and built in the style of old Anasasi cliff dwellings, placed on top of each other three or four stories high. Some of the most ancient villages are off limits to outsiders. Old Oraibi, located on Third Mesa, is considered to be the oldest continually inhabited village in North America ("Hopi Tribe"). Many of these villages are extremely sacred to the Hopi and are off limits to visitors. Many other of the newer villages welcome visitors and are home to some of the galleries and arts & craft stores the Hopis operate throughout their reservation.
The Hopis live simple lives based on agriculture, and that has been their tradition for centuries. Unlike other nomadic tribes, they built permanent villages and did not travel in search of their food. They have always been a peaceful people, and they continue to avoid conflict whenever possible. They still rely on agriculture, which might seem odd, considering their location in the high desert. To survive, they have developed a unique form of agriculture known as "dry farming." The editors of a tribal Web site note, "Instead of plowing their fields, Hopi traditional farmers place 'wind breakers' in the fields at selected intervals to retain soil, snow, and moisture. They also have perfected special techniques to plant seeds in arid fields. As a result, they succeed in raising corn, beans, squash, melons and other crops in a landscape that appears inhospitable to farming" ("Hopi Tribe"). Many of the Hopi live today very much as they did in the 12th century. They have modern conveniences such as electricity, but they still farm, live in their ancient villages, and perform their ancient rituals. Some Hopis have left the reservation and live and work in nearby towns. One of the most famous Hopis in recent times is Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi soldier and mother who was one of the first servicepeople killed in the Iraq war in 2003.
The Hopi are also celebrated craftspeople. They produce decorative pottery, silver work, jewelry, basketry, and perhaps the most well-known, Kachina dolls that are traditionally hand carved from cottonwood roots. These elaborately dressed dolls depict many of the characters that perform in their traditional native dances and represent the gods and goddesses they believe watch over them. Tourism is a large part of the Hopi world today, and there are several galleries and co-ops that sell their crafts to the public, all of them located on the Hopi reservation.
The Assiniboine tribe is a Sioux-related tribe that inhabits Northern Montana and parts of Canada. Today, the Fort Belknap Reservation in Northern Montana is the headquarters of the U.S. Assiniboine nation. In the past, the Assiniboine were nomadic hunters, following the buffalo across the northern plains for their sustenance. Their Web site states, "The Assiniboine were typically large game hunters, dependent on the buffalo for a considerable part of their diet. They used buffalo hides for clothing and receptacles, and lived in hide tipis" ("Fort Belknap"). Today, they are largely agriculturally based. Their Web site notes, "The main industry is agriculture, consisting of small cattle ranches, raising alfalfa hay for feed and larger dry land farms" ("Fort Belknap"). In Canada, they are called the Stoney, or "those who cook with stones," because they used to heat stones in order to boil water to cook their food. Their language is a derivative of the Dakota (Sioux language), and it is believed they came to the area from further east in the Minnesota region. They call themselves the Nakota. They did not have domestic horses, but they did have domestic dogs in their camps, and they sometimes used them to carry items or pull sleds. In the past, they were aligned with the Cree nation, and fought against the Gros Ventre, but today, they share their reservation with the Gros Ventre.
Today, their main business besides agriculture is a tribal meat packing company and smokehouse. They sell a variety of meat products, mostly based on bison. The tribe keeps a heard of 600 bison that they rely on for income. They suffer from high rates of unemployment, as much as 75% at some times of the year, and they are one of the poorest native communities in Montana. Tourism is almost non-existent, and the tribe is always looking for ways to improve itself and help its members survive.
The Hopi religion is based on stories and legends about their gods and characters who watch over them. They celebrate these characters in elaborate dances and ceremonies throughout the year. The Snake Dance is one of the most important of these dances. The details of the dance have been handed down for generations, since Spanish explorers first encountered the Hopi in the 16th century. The Snake Dance is actually the culmination of a sixteen-day Snake Antelope ceremony, a very elaborate celebration that holds great importance in the Hopi community. Another writer notes, "Through the first half of the twentieth century, the Snake Dance was perhaps the best-known symbol of American Indian religion, and it became a vastly important tourist attraction" (Jenkins 3). Because tourists are not allowed to take photographs of the event, there have been problems with the dance and the number of tourists it attracts. This year, the Hopis closed the dance to all outsiders, because during the last dance, tourists ignored the photo ban and photographed the ceremony, which is deeply offensive to the Hopis.
The Snake Dance takes place in the village plaza. Prior to the dance, men have gathered snakes from the desert, and painted their bodies in ceremonial designs. They build a bower of cottonwood called a "kiwi," and in the bower, they place the snakes, located in a jar. A cottonwood plank is placed in the plaza for the dancers to use, as well. When the ceremony begins, two rows of twelve dancers enter the plaza and circle it four times. Each time they reach the plank, they stomp on it, creating a noise like thunder. Antelope dancers form a long line and sway like a snake as the other dancers continue (Fadely).
The Snake Chief bends over the jar of snakes and puts a snake in his mouth. The dancers each dance with a snake in their mouths, circling the plaza with a partner. They place the snake on the ground, and then return to the kiwi for another. After the dancers are done with the snakes, they place them inside a cornmeal circle the women have prepared. Members of the Snake Clan then gather up the snakes and release them back into the desert in all four directions, north, south, east, and west. After the dancers are through, women carefully clean the paint from their bodies, and they return to the kiva, a religious chamber, for purification (Fadely). It is the most important dance of all the ceremonies held during the year, and it is the last dance of the season.
The main purpose of the Snake Dance was to bring water for the crops, which is why it is always held in the summertime. It is held in August every other year, alternating with the Flute Ceremony. The cottonwood board they stomp on represents thunder, and the songs they sing during the dance encourage clouds to form and to release their moisture on to their crops. It is a very important dance to the Hopis, the most important of all their dances and ceremonies.
The Snake Dance is the most significant and the most sacred, and that is why they do not want people to photograph it. The Snake symbolizes the Earth and the female and male spirit, while the Antelope symbolizes freedom and the highest…