Water is Life: Emerging Collaborations in Hopiland
A Project Update by: David Seibert
According to Hopi tradition: Water is Life. This ethic informs both everyday and ceremonial life on the mesas, with the Hopi accepting full responsibility for the spiritual and ecological health of the land. This approach to caretaking made the recent dry-up of a ceremonial spring at Hopi especially disconcerting, given that the site remains an important element in local cultural practices.
In April, Waterock L3C hired Borderlands Restoration to conduct a one-week erosion control and spring restoration training workshop for Hopi residents at this ceremonial spring located in northern Arizona.
Erosive flash floods coming off the three Hopi mesas have cut deep arroyos near the spring, pulling water away and sending it out of the system, without recharging the spring. Past BR research and restoration success in the area indicated that these degenerative trends could be reversed if we all worked together.
BR staff first spent time with Hopi youth reading the ecological landscape and discussing the cultural and historic uses of the spring. These eager, future restoration practitioners, hired to build spring stabilizing structures, were quickly convinced that the work of their own hands could make a difference in this special place. The crew immediately got to work with great energy and dedication, carefully selecting rocks that could be moved on the landscape into more effective in-channel locations for water harvesting, without compromising the integrity of the hill slopes. By the second day, and without instruction or encouragement, the caretakers were independently reading the landscape, identifying potential weaknesses, and building small rock structures on side tributaries that fed the main channel. Pride in their craftsmanship soon emerged as they playfully critiqued and challenged one another’s choices and techniques. Meanwhile laughter, shouts of encouragement, and cheers at their own success filled the days as the young men carefully worked the rocks into positions that would stabilize and support the spring, native vegetation, and fruit trees necessary for ceremonial practices.
The project originated and then unfolded as a technical and inspiring exercise in restoration collaboration and its potentials. As soon as word got out in the community about our work, a Hopi religious leader made a plan to bless the spring, and trail runners began to organize a means of continuing spring monitoring and care. Hopes and dreams for similar work can take root in these cultural spaces, all according to locally-defined means and measures. Toward the end of the training, the Hopi Water Resources Department took BR staff to an important threatened cienega where they would like BR to conduct similar training and work—and so we will, together.
Back at the spring, new rock structures now nestle among the remnants of work conducted generations ago; modified restoration techniques converse with older ways, and extend them to modern concerns; and a small group of Hopi youth can now demonstrate to their community that a few days of concerted work that cut across cultural, historic, and ecological interests can be accomplished with little more than their bare hands and a passion for making a difference.
Waterock L3c, whose water harvesting objectives are focused primarily on tribal lands, is one of BR’s newest collaborators. Waterock’s Executive Director, Laurence deBure, hopes to hire BR to empower residents in design and implementation of restoration projects insitu.