Food, fun and friendship

FALA students fire up Hopi bread oven to be ready for the 72nd Annual Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture at MNA July 2 and 3 in Flagstaff

Esther Honyestewa/Observer
Diana Shebala from the village of Hotevilla places the first batch of bread in the oven on the MNA campus.

Esther Honyestewa/Observer Diana Shebala from the village of Hotevilla places the first batch of bread in the oven on the MNA campus.

FLAGSTAFF -- The Museum of Northern Arizona, in conjunction with the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA) students and staff, constructed an outdoor Hopi bread oven June 9 at the museum.

For the first time, they prepared Hopi yeast bread dough, greased the pans, waited for the dough to rise, rolled and shaped the dough into round rolls in the pans, lit up the new bread oven, baked the bread and shared and the fresh hot bread with butter, jam and jelly.

The mission of MNA is to inspire a sense of love and responsibility for the beauty and diversity of the Colorado Plateau through collecting, studying, interpreting and preserving the region's natural and cultural heritage.

FALA's objective is to promote the study of local history and Native American cultures among high school students between the ages of 14-18 in grades nine through 12. FALA's bread project included the study of food traditions within the Hopi culture.

Students and Staff visited the Hopi reservation and learned the importance of water and corn, native farming techniques, traditional Hopi bread and piki making. They also visited several springs and enjoyed meeting new friends.

According to FALA Teacher, Ben Anderson, everyone was treated with fine Hopi hospitality of Hopi stews and bread.

"It's been great to give the kids new things to learn, to experience teamwork and realize the efforts to retain the traditional types of food, time and care," Anderson said. "It was an interesting and powerful learning experience."

The essential area of FALA's project has been their work with Hopi wood-fired traditional bread ovens. Students learned about the use of the ovens, why such ovens are necessary and how you can bake native foods without using electricity or propane.

Along with FALA staff, they also repaired and replastered several bread ovens and a piki house at First and Second Mesa. They also built a new bread oven at a farm on Antelope Mesa.

Both students and staff said they were excited to help share the tradition of Hopi bread making, oven repairs and to receive wonderful Hopi hospitality and friendship. Now they plan to share this experience of Hopi bread making with the people of Flagstaff and visitors to the MNA.

The new oven will be used by demonstrators from Hopi at the events held by the museum in celebration of Hopi culture. The first of these public demonstrations will be held at the 72nd Annual Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture at MNA in Flagstaff on July 2 and 3.

FALA student Mariah Alexander has been involved with this project since September.

"I learned that the Hopi tribe is an amazing culture and is being challenged by the coming of modern society," Alexander said. "Today, you can just buy bread in stores instead of going to the trouble of using the traditional oven.

Her first visit to Hopi was for three days.

"We started the foundation for the oven we built on Antelope Mesa," she said. "The Hopi people were really nice and they were happy about the repairs.

"I never really learned anything about the Hopi culture until I started going to the Hopi reservation. Now I know what an amazing place it is."

FALA is a public, charter high school located on the grounds of the MNA with approximately 160 students. The educational institution is one of five schools to be awarded a grant from the Arizona Heritage Project in 2004 and 2005 as well as a grant to continue the project through the 2005-06 school year. They said they look forward to many more visits to the Hopi reservation. This program is affiliated with the United States Library of Congress and is its Folklife Center. The results of each of the school's projects will be archived in Washington, D.C. upon completion.

In the Hopi tradition, bread and pastries are a welcome treat at Hopi weddings, baby naming feasts, social dance paybacks, Hopi ceremonial dances, family gatherings and much more. Hopi female in-laws play an important role by always sharing their fresh baked goods and piki with their in-laws, family members and others. The women are also very close to their paternal nephews and supply baked pastries for them as a token of love.

It's a Hopi tradition to share food and to feed all visitors who come into a Hopi home. Before sitting down to eat, a pinch of each food sample is always presented to the sun for nourishing and replenishing the land to provide food for families, plants and animals. Hopis always think of others before themselves. After a meal, Hopi people always express thanks in the native Hopi language for their gratitude and nourishment. The traditional bread ovens are also abundant in the Hopi villages as well as in the New Mexico pueblos.

Anderson offered special thanks to the Hopi cultural consultants, Susan Sekakuku and Dorothy Denet. The Hopi bread oven demonstrators included Diana Shebala and her daughter Vivian Shebala from Hotevilla. The art of traditional Hopi foods is passed on from mother to daughter.

Anderson also thanked Museum of Northern Arizona Director Robert Breunig, Stefan Sommer, MNA's deputy director for Public Programs; Michele Mountain, MNA marketing manager; Tracy Anderson, FALA education director; Dan Shilling, executive director of Arizona Heritage Project; Kirk Quitter, director of FALA students and staff, Ann Widmann, managing editor/Navajo Hopi Observer; and all the Hopi families who were involved. Salt River Project, Wells Fargo and the Arizona Republic funded the grant.

The Museum of Northern Arizona is located three miles north of downtown Flagstaff on Highway 180. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call MNA 928-774-5213 or visit www.musnaz.org.

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