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Cultural Tourism A Sensitive Business On Hopi
by Katherine Locke - Reporter Navajo-Hopi Observer
Explore Hopi tour guides find ways to share Hopi history and culture with visitors while preserving privacy and protecting sacred sites

SECOND MESA, AZ - The 2014 Explore Hopi Guides are ready to help people take a trip back in time to explore the centuries of Hopi history firsthand, in a way that is sensitive and respectful to the Hopi people.

The tour guides are independent, Hopi Tribe licensed business owners who partner with Explore Hopi. The Hopi Tribe Economic Development Corporation (HTEDC) sponsors Explore Hopi ( The group hopes to provide guidance and training along with economic development opportunities that allow Hopi tribe members to prosper while preserving their homeland and culture.

"We don't run tours out of here," explained Explore Hopi Director Clarice Tofoya. "We provide a cultural and educational experience for visitors to Hopi."

What Explore Hopi does do is much of the marketing and promotion for the guides. Because Explore Hopi operates out of the Visitor Center located at the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa, it is the first place many people stop.

"We send the business to the guys. They run everything. They tell us how their business is and how we fit into that," Tofoya said. She added that Explore Hopi promotes the tour guides at events and art shows.

She said customers are matched with a guide who can give them the tour they want based on the guides' knowledge and expertise.

"Each one of our guides has amazing knowledge about Hopi and all the different aspects on it," Tofoya said. "There is so much to see out here...there's a lot of history here."

Gary Tso has been in the tour guide business since 1998. He said that while he enjoys meeting all different kinds of people who each have their own reasons for wanting to come to Hopi, there is another more important reason he wanted to work with Explore Hopi.

"The contribution to the economy is also very, very important to me," he said. "As our clients come through and they spend money with the different artists... that is something I feel good about, that we're able to affect a certain amount of change within the villages at a person to person level and that is very important."

Kevin Lombardo, CEO of the HTEDC, said the tour guides are great.

"The guides provide an array of rich cultural knowledge for visitors to Hopi. The way we set up Explore Hopi allows us to partner with independent business people to help expand the economy on Hopi for many including the guides, artists and businesses."

Tso pointed out that not everyone on Hopi benefits from the tour guide industry. And the people who don't benefit may not be in favor of tour guides bringing visitors into the 12 villages on Hopi.

"We're very fortunate that the villages that are open to visitation have let us know," he said. "Part of what we do is govern where people go. We don't go where visitors are not invited because we have to have the support of our people. If we make mistakes, which we do from time to time, then it makes us unpopular and unwanted. It is a complicated place."

Tso's son, Hunter, answers the phone and takes care of the customers as they set up the initial tour.

"It's fun to interact with the different people and figure out what they want to know," Hunter said. "It's helping my dad out and he's wanting to me to start doing my own tours. It's something I want to try doing but I don't know if I am ready for that yet."

Donald Dawahongnewa started his tour business in February 2013. Before that he worked at the Hopi Cultural Preservation office. He said it is his background as a teacher and his ability to use humor to put people at ease that keeps tours coming back to him.

He conducts his tours based on a horizontal calendar, both east and west, and some of the villages are points that are on the calendar so he tries to make sure that the villages are aware that the tour is coming.

"If they are doing a ceremony then I stay out of that village. I know where to draw the line," he said.

Dawahongnewa said bringing the public to the craftsmen of Hopi is the most enjoyable aspect of the job.

"I like it," he said. "It has been rewarding."

Ronald Wadsworth is new to the touring business although he has been a spokesman for Hopi leadership for 25 years. He believes what makes him a good tour guide is his experience and knowledge of the Hopi culture.

"I haven't been on that many tours yet but I really enjoy sharing our tradition and things with the outside world," Wadsworth said. "The tours that I have been on, the villages have been really nice. When I do get stopped and asked what we are doing, I tell them we have visitors to our Hopi land and they share with me, 'you should take them to this site or to that site,' that's really a nice experience with other peoples."

Lorna Joseph has recently begun guiding tours, too. She echoed the other guides in her enjoyment of meeting different people from all walks of life and sharing her own experience as a Hopi with them.

"We have a unique culture. A lot of people come out not knowing about our culture and we have a lot of sacred places and things to be respected," she said. "I like being a tour guide to let people know why those sites are important to us."

The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office decides where tour guides can take visitors and where visitors are not allowed. Illegal pirating - where cultural objects are removed from Hopi - has been a problem. Sometimes outsiders destroy sacred sites. At certain times of the year when ceremonies take place the guides do not enter certain villages. Tso explained that access to some sites is available by permit only and in order to obtain a permit, a business license is required that says the person is sanctioned to go to those sites by the tribe. Those permits can be day long or as long as a year, depending on the site.

"It is actually a very good system. It allows for protection of the site," Tso said, adding that the guides and the clients are sometimes the first line of defense for the sites. "While we don't have any power or authority to enforce any laws, our presence, in most cases, is enough to deter any alcohol consumption or vandalism of a certain site."

Tso also emphasized it is important for the Hopi to establish their cultural ties to these specific sites and to let people know that they are affiliated with the Hopi and not other cultures around them.

"That's very important because we've been here longer than anybody and that's very easy to say," Tso said. "That's always been a part of my mission, to establish that as a culture the sites that are around us, everyone has a certain amount of tie to. We come from these places."

He said based on a study done during the 1990s, Hopi is a destination place - people come specifically to visit Hopi. And with more people visiting every day and many companies offering tours, Tso sees the other tour guides as partners, not competition, in sharing the Hopi culture with the outside world.

"This is a very deep culture and very, very complicated and the sophistication of it is what has always attracted people over time," Tso said. "It makes me proud. You talk about these things and people's minds are blown as to how deep this culture gets."

He believes having a guided tour is a good way to see Hopi not only because they offer an opportunity to see some sites that would otherwise not be available but because of the information the guides are able to offer.

"Explore Hopi and hire a guide," Tso said.

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