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Hopi elder shared sacredness of Little Colorado River on Environmental Day at Arizona Capitol

By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Published: Saturday, January 27, 2024 - 8:05am
Updated: Saturday, January 27, 2024 - 9:56am

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Gabriel Pietrorazio/KJZZ
Vernon Masayesva, executive director of Black Mesa Trust, spoke about the sacredness of Sipapuni and the Little Colorado River at 'Environmental Day' on Thursday.

Thursday was Environmental Day at the Arizona Capitol. Activists and state lawmakers focused on this year’s theme: “Save Water, Save Life,” and a Hopi leader shared how sacred one body of water is to his community.

Vernon Masayesva is the executive director of Black Mesa Trust. A former Hopi Tribal Council chairman, the 84-year-old elder sat before a crowd of hundreds at Wesley Bolin Plaza to “plant a seed in your hearts.”

“Mankind has much to learn from Hopi teaching and philosophy. We have much in common to share, to learn and to grow, not just to know,” said Masayesva. “Water is the lifeblood of our earth mother. She is sick and crying for help, but we are not listening. Let us listen.”

“The once vibrant Little Colorado River used to run all year. Now, it runs only when the snow melts on the White Mountains, and during the monsoon season,” said Masayesva, adding that “LCR is a river no more.”

He traveled from the snowy mesas to the Valley this week in the hopes of imparting Hopi wisdom on the sacredness of water, particularly the Little Colorado River, which is considered to be the place of emergence for Hopis from Sipapuni.

“Since time immemorial, Little Colorado River and groundwaters sustained Sipapuni,” added Masayesva. “It is located a short distance upstream from the convergence of the Colorado River and the Colorado River. Sipapuni means umbilical cord.”

He says it's their most important shrine, with Masayesva insisting, “it's as important as the Vatican is to the followers of Christian faith, as Mecca is to the people of Islamic faith, and Jerusalem to the Jews.”

The Little Colorado River watershed spans 27,000 square miles, or almost a fifth of the state's landmass. This sprawling drainage area traverses across Navajo, Hopi and even Zuni tribal lands in New Mexico.

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