Edge of the Rez: A Stranger Among the Hopi

Jonathan Day in his shop i

Jonathan Day, who grew up near Boston, sells carved wooden kachina dolls made by Hopi artists in his small shop in Flagstaff, Ariz. Gillian Ferris-Kohl, KNAU hide caption

itoggle caption Gillian Ferris-Kohl, KNAU
Jonathan Day in his shop

Jonathan Day, who grew up near Boston, sells carved wooden kachina dolls made by Hopi artists in his small shop in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Gillian Ferris-Kohl, KNAU
Janice and Joe Day i

Janice and Joe Day, wearing their famous "Don't Worry, Be Hopi" T-shirts, have sold Indian arts out of their store in the heart of the Hopi reservation for two decades. Cindy Carpien, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cindy Carpien, NPR
Janice and Joe Day

Janice and Joe Day, wearing their famous "Don't Worry, Be Hopi" T-shirts, have sold Indian arts out of their store in the heart of the Hopi reservation for two decades.

Cindy Carpien, NPR

White Man on a Reservation

Joe Day has lived on the Hopi reservation for over 20 years with his wife Janice, who is Hopi. He considers himself one of the reservation's token bahanas — the Hopi word for white man. "I live on the edge of multicultural confusion," he says.

Cottonwood roots i

Cottonwood is for sale outside Tsakurshovi, Joe and Janice Day's shop on Second Mesa in the heart of the Hopi reservation. Hopi kachina dolls are carved from these tree roots. Cindy Carpien, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cindy Carpien, NPR
Cottonwood roots

Cottonwood is for sale outside Tsakurshovi, Joe and Janice Day's shop on Second Mesa in the heart of the Hopi reservation. Hopi kachina dolls are carved from these tree roots.

Cindy Carpien, NPR
Traditional Hopi kachina dolls i

When Jonathan Day was growing up, Joe and Janice would send him kachina dolls like these for his birthday and for Christmas so he wouldn't forget his summers on the reservation. Cindy Carpien, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cindy Carpien, NPR
Traditional Hopi kachina dolls

When Jonathan Day was growing up, Joe and Janice would send him kachina dolls like these for his birthday and for Christmas so he wouldn't forget his summers on the reservation.

Cindy Carpien, NPR

In "Edge of the Rez," member station KNAU probes American Indian identity. The series profiles American Indians and non-Indians who live in northern Arizona communities that border the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Jonathan Day, 35, owns a small Indian arts shop in downtown Flagstaff, Ariz., a popular tourist stop on the way to the Grand Canyon. He mostly sells carved wooden kachina dolls made by Hopi artists. Day explains that the carvings depict spirits who represent everything from "animals to ancestors to plants to elements of the universe." Many of Day's customers ask him if he studied kachinas in grad school. Hardly.

Day's knowledge of Indian lore came from his split boyhood. He grew up in the Boston suburbs with his mother but spent his summers on the Hopi reservation with his father, Joe Day, and his Hopi stepmother, Janice.

"In Boston, you couldn't climb a cliff, walk into a canyon, play kachina, shoot [arrows] at your friends until the tips are dull, sharpen them in a pencil sharpener and continue shooting," Jonathan says.

As Jonathan grew older, he spent fewer of his summers running around the village plaza and more time in the tiny Indian arts shop his stepmother and father have owned for two decades. Located in the heart of the Hopi reservation, a two-hour drive from Flagstaff, the shop is called Tsakurshovi, an old Hopi name that means "hill that comes to a point."

Pinned on a bulletin board are photos of customers taken in nearly every corner of the world, wearing the Days' now-famous "Don't Worry, Be Hopi" T-shirt.

Joe Day grew up in Kansas, worked as a missionary to the Navajos in Utah for a time and came to Flagstaff to run the city's Head Start program. He was invited to a Hopi kachina dance, a sacred religious ceremony. He kept coming back on weekends, and that's how he met Janice. Jonathan, his son from a previous marriage, started spending his summers on the Hopi reservation when he was six.

Joe and Janice would send Jonathan kachina dolls for his birthday and for Christmas so he wouldn't forget the reservation. He had a medicine bag containing hooma, ground cornmeal that Hopis use for prayer.

Jonathan's visits to the reservation "were the happiest memories of every year," he says. "I'd hang out with the other Hopi kids and play kachina."

Joe Day remembers the time they were looking for Jonathan at a party. They could hear music coming from one of the bedrooms. "We opened the door and there's all these boys lined up like kachinas singing and shaking their rattles and Jonathan was the only tall little white kid in the group." Joe and Janice also recall the time Jonathan faked a Hopi accent to woo a cute Hopi girl.

But Joe Day believes that Jonathan has no illusions about everyday life on the reservation. "He knows this is a real place where real people live with real problems.

White people tend to have two kinds of stereotypes about Indians, Joe Day says. "There's the drunken, thieving, lazy, savage stereotype. And there's the brown man living in harmony with his fellow man and with the environment. Everybody can see the evil in the first stereotype. But I think the second stereotype is just as evil, because stereotypes keep us from relating to people as people."

A few years ago, Jonathan Day wrote Traditional Hopi Kachinas: A New Generation of Carvers, in which he profiled nearly 20 artists. In the book, the carvers talk about preserving their native language, about border towns and about alcohol abuse. "I portray them as people instead of Indians," Day says.

In his introduction, Day writes, "I am fortunate enough to have witnessed things that few non-Indians will ever see, and I have often been accused of being an expert... The reality is that the only way to be an expert on Hopi is to be born Hopi... My dad always says, 'If I'm lucky, they let me watch.'"

Books Featured In This Story

Traditional Hopi Kachinas

A New Generation of Carvers

by Jonathan S. Day

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