History, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2008


Published in Hopi Nation: Essays on Indigenous Art, Culture, History, and Law, edited by Edna Glenn, John R. Wunder, Willard Hughes Rollings, and C. L. Martin (Lincoln, NE: UNL Digital Commons, 2008). Copyright © 2008 the Estate of Edna Glenn, Willard Hughes Rollings, Abbott Sekaquaptewa, Barton Wright, Michael Kabotie, Terrance Talaswaima, Alice Schlegel, Robert H. Ames, Peter Iverson, and John R. Wunder. All images and artwork are copyright by the individual artists; for a listing see pages 9-14.


“We believe we are ‘at the center’ and this gives us a very secure feeling about where we are, where we have been, and what we are going to do.”

To understand how Hopi courts are trying to utilize custom and tradition, it is necessary first to understand the court structure, jurisdiction, and procedures of the Hopi Nation’s judicial system. The Hopi court system is composed of two courts—the Hopi Tribal Appellate Court and the Hopi Tribal Trial Court. My present appointment is Chief Judge of the Hopi Tribal Trial Court. The Hopi Trial Court is the highest trial court and exercises a full range of jurisdiction in all criminal and civil matters. It has original jurisdiction over all civil causes of action arising on the Hopi Reservation if the defendants are Indians, and it has original jurisdiction over all criminal offenses committed by Indians in violation of Hopi tribal ordinances on the Hopi Reservation.9 A new Hopi Children’s Code has expanded the Hopi Trial Court’s jurisdiction to include any adult, Indian or non- Indian, on or off the reservation, that might “facilitate the handling of children’s cases.” All appeals, except for small criminal case punishments, go to the Hopi Tribal Appellate Court, which has only this appellate jurisdiction.

The Hopi judiciary is working very hard to make the courts something that the Hopi people can understand and use when it becomes necessary. It is hoped that the people will continue to practice their customs and traditions as they did in the past in resolving disputes. It has been said that the Hopi word describing the Hopi people means “peaceful people.” In some sense, that is correct; but in everyday life, Hopis have arguments, disputes, and fights as all people do. As a small community, the bickerings become more pronounced, and everyone is aware of what each dispute is about. One way that Hopis dealt with conduct which was out of character with the community was the use of the Mudheads. During a ceremony in the plaza, the Mudheads would act out or describe inappropriate conduct through sarcastic pantomime and ridicule. Of course, everyone in the village, including those who were the object of such ridicule, know who was being mimicked. With the community pressure demonstrated by the Mudheads the conduct which was considered inappropriate for that community at that particular time was altered. The Hopi judges attempt to utilize the same sort of pressure, or punishment, in the rendering of decisions and judgments.