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Corn Nourishes the Hopi Identity, but Climate-Driven Drought Is Stressing the Tribe’s Foods and Traditions

Corn goes back to their very creation story. As the Hopi people emerged into this world, the Creator gave them three things: a gourd of water, a planting stick and a short ear of blue corn.

“And he told us one specific thing,” says Clark Tenakhongva, a 65-year-old Hopi farmer and former vice chairman of the tribe, recounting the story that’s been passed down through generations to him. “This is my land, but I’m allowing you to benefit off the land. Life is going to be difficult, but if you should be the good people, if you are going to be the stewards of the land, it will take care of you.”

Clark grows heirloom Hopi blue, gray, red and white corn in the valley between First Mesa and Second Mesa in the middle of the 2,532 square mile Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona. The seeds that he plants have been cultivated over countless generations to grow in this dry climate of the high desert.