The Hopi Conscientious Objector

Hopi Gourd Rattle Symbolic of Earth, Cosmos, and Balance

“On May 21, 1941, three Hopi men from the Village of Hotevilla, Arizona; Roger (Comahletztewa) Nasevama, Elmer Seequaptewa and Paul (Johonet) Sewemaenewa were found guilty by the U.S. District Court for failing to register for Selective Service. These three men, in addition to Leslie Kootshongsie, Reuben Choykoychi and Fred Pakonva, also from Hotevilla were found guilty days later for the same reason (Arizona Republic, 1941).”

The unwritten oral history of the impact of colonialism on the Hopi people, our aboriginal lands, water, religion and even human remains cannot be found in a library, textbook or online. The living human experience of Hopi people under the boot of a foreign dictator, “To tah’ tsi”, is still felt as post traumatic stress even to this day. 

What crime did the six Hopi men commit? These men were part of a sacred Hopi religious society predating the U. S. government whose creed was to make no war against other nations. By adhering to the ancient creed of their religion, the sentence of the six Hopi men was forced labor to break stone with a hand pick to build the highway from Tucson, Arizona up to Mount Lemmon. 

“The six Hopi men were being unjustly punished for their beliefs and adhering to a way of life which consisted of not taking up arms against anyone. These Hopi men were trapped between two worlds, reprimanded by a society that didn’t understand them. The six men were found guilty because they were unable to demonstrate creditable church membership and attachment to an American concept of theology. Hence, the United States Government didn’t recognize the Hopi religion as a legitimate religious practice.”

Hopi Badge of All Life

“The Hopi have always been an agricultural and passive people. Status and honor in war has never been a part of Hopi culture, even though the Hopi have had to deal with their share of war throughout their history. Hopi, as a culture, is based on unwritten laws that are used to guide Hopi people to sustain and live the proper way of life. The Hopi Way of Life has helped the Hopi people maintain a strong grip on their culture.” 

“The laws of the Hopi Way of Life are set forth at birth and are incorporated into the daily teachings. The Hopi people are different, in the sense that each person has a place in Hopi society and plays a role in the Hopi Way of Life. However, each Hopi individual has the privilege to choose if they want to accept and follow the Hopi Way.”

Other Hopi men have historically shown passive resistance to U. S. government policies and were imprisoned at Alcatraz.  At the turn of the century, Kikmongwi Loloma, the Bear Clan leader of Orayvi Village allowed the Mennonite Church to build a school and a church on his land when he learned that the Mennonites had a similar religious belief in not taking a human life. 

Religion or Colonialism?

“Roger Nasevama, who spent nine years of his young adult life at the Catalina Honor Camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, does not understand why those years from 1941-1949 were taken away from him for abiding by the Hopi Way of Life. While others who were sent to the Catalina Honor camp for similar reasons did their time and were released; Roger remained at the camp not knowing if he would ever see his family again.” 

“When asked what he remembers most about the Catalina Honor Camp. Roger said, “Macaroni and cheese. We practically ate it every single day and I will not eat a single bite till the day I die.” Roger was released from the Catalina Honor Camp on July 4, 1949.”

Citation: Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Archivist, Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, Hopi Tutuveni, May 2, 2017

Other recommended resources on the Catalina Honor Camp are:

“Prisoners and Patriots”, Dr Cherstein Lyon

“No No Boy”, John Okeda, 1956

Google: Gordon Hirabayashi on Japanese prisoners at Catalina Honor Camp

2 Comments on “The Hopi Conscientious Objector

  1. Good article The Hopi badge of life is just like a petorglyph image at the Swallownest site.

    • Usqwali for a respectful insight into the Hopi stories.. Please continue to tell them as they are important to the true history of this country

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