August 2010

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture: Care for the People, Care for Mother Earth, Respect for the Future

by Lilian Hill

Indigenous peoples have developed specialized farming techniques throughout the western hemisphere, ranging from dry farming to the specialization and cultivation of diverse types of heirloom seeds. This specialized traditional knowledge has allowed them to sustain the land and themselves for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples have created a way of living in which they depend on each other as families and communities for survival and livelihood. In days not so long ago, the Hopi subsisted on many varieties of corn, beans, squash, melons, pumpkins, and heirloom fruits such as apples, peaches, apricots, pears and medicinal seasonal plant foods. Health and nutrition depended on deep intimate knowledge of traditional land and a unique relationship with the spiritual forces of nature. This life revolves around the cultivation and collection of seeds, fruits, root foods, greens, berries, and those plants and trees that give shelter, heat, and comfort. In this way the Hopi have always lived in accordance to the original spiritual instructions of the elders.

These teachings continue to thrive with the work of Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture, a local Hopi community group. According to Lilian Hill, who directs the program, “As young people, we understand the connections between what we eat and how we feel. “We see this as spiritual growth and our health and nutrition adapt to this growth.”

With the introduction of mass-produced and commodity foods, imposed initially by the federal government and more recently by international commercial industries, the life ways and path as Indigenous peoples has changed in many significant ways. The rapid change in lifestyles and food has greatly contributed to the increase of diabetes and obesity in Indigenous communities, and the loss of biodiversity in regards to the cultivation and care for ancient heirloom seeds. In the Hopi community this is apparent. “Although many continue to practice traditional farming, most rely strictly on grocery stores and government commodity foods for their subsistence. Foreign food markets that practice exploitive means in both farming and husbandry have compromised the dignity of our people. We believe that there is a correlation between our health, nutrition and well-being. The foods that have sustained our people for thousands of years are a type of spiritual nourishment that enables us to understand our purpose and help us grow into productive human beings,” says Hill.

To address these issues, it is important to engage youth and elders in an intergenerational project designed to encourage the continuation of our languages and cultures through meaningful interactions and hands-on activities. Much of this linguistically encoded knowledge is transmitted to younger generations while they are assisting elders in traditional building, hunting, fishing or foraging activities, or while food, fibers, medicines, or ceremonial items are being prepared by hand.

Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture (HTP) is based within the Village of Kykotsmovi, located in Northern Arizona on the Hopi Reservation. Our vision is to strengthen food security while creating opportunities for local Indigenous youth and community members to participate in the continuation of Hopi life ways through the continued intergenerational practices of traditional farming and gardening as well as applying applicable Permaculture principles and techniques. HTP has two full-time staff and 8-12 seasonal youth leaders. Support honorariums are also given to elders and teachers from within the community. They organize with parents, elders, farmers, youth, as well as traditional village leaders, school administrators, and tribal programs, and work in collaboration with many groups within the bioregion of Northern Arizona to advocate for social change in relation to food security, community economic development, alternative energy, energy conservation, and to help create proactive solutions to impending shifts associated with global climate change. HTP hosts workshops that will keep engaging, training, and inspiring Hopi youth & community to develop skills and capacity in building sustainable communities.

HTP has three main components: the Youth in Sustainability Leadership Project, Living Learning Center, and the Kwangwa’Tsoki Orchard Restoration Project. Lilian Hill says, “Many of our goals and visions are both short and long-term in scope. We hope to accomplish these goals and visions with the support of our villages, communities, families, and youth in a time frame that is sensitive to the cultural ways, ceremonies, and practices of our people.”

Within the past two years HTP has taken on the responsibility of addressing food security issues within the Hopi communities by creating the Kwang’wa Tsoki Orchard Restoration Project, with the goal of planting fruit trees in every village, in every school, and for every family on the Hopi Reservation. With the support of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that works to improve food supplies around the world, this goal is becoming a reality. This year alone 1300 fruit trees have been planted by Hopi community members, volunteers, and schoolchildren. To deal with the harsh growing environment, planters used drought-resistant varieties and installed drip irrigation systems to sustain the first three years of growth.

The orchards located in the villages of Hotevilla, Shungopavi, Moenkopi, Tewa Village, Keams Canyon, and Kykotsmovi will be cared for by local community Orchard Keepers, dedicated volunteers, and elementary school students. The apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and even persimmons will be used for school lunches, to feed the community, and for community workshops in canning and preserving.

The orchard project is intended to strengthen community ties and help a new generation to learn traditional Hopi values of stewardship and responsibility. Jacobo Marcus, Orchard Restoration Coordinator says, “Local youth and community members will gain practical experience caring for the trees and learn traditional ecological knowledge to help them work toward a more sustainable future.”

Since Permaculture is tied to the healthy regeneration of human environments, the work of Hopi Tuskwa Permaculture can be seen in the healthy soils, green fruit bearing orchards and the sustained health of the future generations.

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