Hopi Teens Worry About Loss Of Culture For nearly 1,000 years, the Hopi people have lived on the same three mesas, land now considered part of northeastern Arizona. For all that time, they have been speaking the Hopi language, which is slowly dying. There are many hurdles standing in the way of preserving Hopi, including, for Hopi teens, the choice between preserving their culture and adopting a modern lifestyle.
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Hopi Teens Worry About Loss Of Culture

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Hopi Teens Worry About Loss Of Culture

Hopi Teens Worry About Loss Of Culture

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

This year, the boys' cross country team at Hopi Junior Senior High School won its 20th consecutive Arizona state championship. But on the Hopi reservation in the high plains of Northeastern Arizona, teens are worried about losing more than races. Fewer and fewer young people there can speak Hopi. And many worry that with the language they'll also lose their culture. Youth Radio brings us this story from Hopi Junior Senior High School in Keams Canyon, Arizona. It's called Last Words.

Unidentified Man: (Hopi spoken)

Mr. AUSTIN COOCHYAMPTEWA: Since the beginning we have been taught about the end. When our language dies, we are told that the world will begin dying with it.

Unidentified Man: (Hopi spoken)

Mr. ALRYE POLEQUAPTEWA: We have a prophecy that one night lost brothers will awaken from the dead, then they'll draw a line from one end of the village to the other. One by one they will line us up and then they will ask us, (Foreign language spoken). Are you Hopi? Can you speak the Hopi language? And if you cannot respond back in fluent Hopi, they will place us on the right side of the line. And soon after that they will cut our throats. This is what we call our judgment day.

Unidentified Man: (Hopi spoken)

(Soundbite of people shouting)

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: This is our school, the Hopi Junior Senior High School. Our Hopi language is dying and me and most of my friends are struggling to speak it.

Ms. LEANDRA CALNIMPTEWA: When I talk to my friends we speak English, we don't like speak our Hopi language. Because some of my friends aren't Hopi, others are, but they don't really know how to speak it.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: This problem isn't new to our generation.

Ms. ELOISE COOCHYAMPTEWA: I'm 66 years old.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: Hopis stopped learning our language..

Ms. COOCHYAMPTEWA: I wasn't allowed to speak my language.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: ...when they were punished for speaking it in schools.

Ms. COOCHYAMPTEWA: You're afraid, you're ashamed and you're crying and they tell you to stop crying and hit you but how can you stop crying when they hit you.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: That's what happened to my grandmother, Eloise Coochyamptewa.

Ms. COOCHYAMPTEWA: Eloise Coochyamptewa.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: She stopped teaching her children...

Ms. COOCHYAMPTEWA: I regret it now.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: ...to protect them from suffering the same humiliation that she had to endure when she was in school.

Ms. COOCHYAMPTEWA: I remember holding on to a fence, just crying, and then my dad will be dragging me to the classroom. It was so scary to sit there. That's what happened to me. That's why I didn't teach my kids.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: Remember the part, remember when we were sitting there doing laundry and I asked you, how do you say this, how do you say that, what's the word for up, down, where did you go, things like that.

Ms. COOCHYAMPTEWA: Oh yeah. And I told him even if you can't pronounce it right, at least I'll know what you're trying to say. You know, that way, I can help you, I can correct you. I just hope it don't die, don't die, because that's the only thing we have right now is our language and our ceremonies but it's not too late. It's not too late.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: At our school there's only one student who is fluent in Hopi.

Ms. ROCHELLE LOMAYAKTEWA: His name is Alrye Polequaptewa.

Mr. PAUL QUAMAHONGNEWA: And everyone calls him Hopi boy.

Ms. LOMAYAKTEWA: Hopi boy.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: Hopi boy.

Mr. POLEQUAPTEWA: (Hopi spoken) You never forget a language that you first learn.

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: The thing that makes Alrye different from everyone else is that his parents forced him to speak Hopi.

Mr. POLEQUAPTEWA: I learned the language from my parents when I was just a (Hopi spoken), a little baby. That's all they talk to me in was Hopi. And Hopi, it was supposed to be the first language you'll ever learn.

Ms. LOMAYAKTEWA: Some people made fun of Alrye when we were younger because he had a traditional haircut and spoke the language so well.

Mr. POLEQUAPTEWA: Number one Hopi boy coming through the door, I guess, they admired me, but I thought they were like teasing me.

Mr. QUAMAHONGNEWA: I kind of looked up to him because he knew Hopi and I started to learn words from him and I started learning and learning and learning and learning. It just started popping in my head and I started getting an idea of what people were talking about.

Mr. POLEQUAPTEWA: Later on as I wondered, why be like them when I can be myself and be different. And then I did that and I became a role model.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Hopi spoken)

Mr. COOCHYAMPTEWA: The land of the Hopi is the center of the universe. We have lived on these three mesas for generations and all that while are people that have been speaking the Hopi language but now everybody says our language is dying.

Unidentified Group: (Hopi spoken)

SIEGEL: Our story Last Words was produced by Youth Radio.

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