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Hopi Tribe seeks to drop ‘ruins’ from park’s name

Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) March 2011

A dozen Hopi clans trace their history to an ancient civilization along the Little Colorado River. Before they lived atop three mesas in northern Arizona, they lived at Homolovi.

But the Hopi Tribe doesn’t consider the site near Winslow a relic of the past. Tribal members still make offerings at the site, and it plays prominently into their oral tradition.

“These sites are still part of our ongoing history as Hopi people,” said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the tribe’s cultural preservation office. “So people consider them to be spiritually alive.”

The Hopis, who want Homolovi Ruins State Park to reflect that belief, have asked the Arizona Parks Board to drop the word “ruins” from the name. The board will vote on the tribe’s request in Winslow the day before the park re-opens.

State parks spokeswoman Ellen Brilbey said the agency received nearly two dozen comments overwhelmingly in favor of the name change. A new tagline for the park will read “ancestral Hopi villages.”

Homolovi includes several villages occupied from 1250 to 1400, some of which have more than 1,000 rooms. Children from the Hopi mesas regularly visit Homolovi to learn about their ancestors.

It became a playground for looters and vandals before the state parks system acquired it in 1986. It long has been a target for closure because of low attendance figures that meant it didn’t generate enough money to stay open.

The Hopi Tribe stepped in with a $175,000 contribution to re-open it, and the state will pay the remaining $48,000 to operate it for a year. The agreement with the Hopi Tribe allows for two one-year extensions.

If the park isn’t profitable, it could close again.

More than 17,000 people visited the park in its last full year of operation. Assistant state parks director Jay Ream said it will be challenging to entice tourists, particularly from out of state, because of the time it’s been closed.

“Our hope is that enough people will come, we fill up the campgrounds, we get interest again because of the Hopi partnership, (and) it becomes somewhat more of a viable culture area than it is right now,” Ream said.

Ream said the park is putting its best foot forward, with podcasts to help visitors better interpret the site, restored exhibits, landscaping and repairs that were long overdue.

To the Hopis, Homolovi is a gateway to the mesas where they now live. It’s a place that showed the first evidence of grinding tools used to make a popular blue corn, wafer-like bread and of rectangular kivas.

Charles Adams, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona who has conducted excavations at Homolovi, said the site has a strong sense of the continuity in the Hopi culture.

“You can imagine these villages being active and alive with people, because they’re so visible and so similar to what Hopis are living in today,” he said.