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Hopi Indians, South Jordan Rotary forge bond

Sep 04, 2015 03:49PM ● By Rhett Wilkinson

Oraibi, a Hopi village that dates back to 1200 A.D. The South Jordan Rotary Council assists the Hopi. Photo courtesy Shaun Michel

By Rhett Wilkinson

It’s not Squanto and the Pilgrims. But the Hopi Indians and South Jordan Rotary have a rather unique relationship.

A teenage girl’s efforts seven years ago means that, today, the club visits a primitive village at least once every year.

The Hopi Indians need water, fixed roofs, firewood and seeds. Annually for eight years now, 25 students have the opportunity to help in Oraibi, the Hopi village, near Tuba City, Ariz. Oraibi is the oldest inhabited city in North America – it dates to 1200 A.D.

“It’s about as third-world as I’ve seen – and I’ve been around most of the world,” said Shaun Michel, the Rotary-Hopi liaison and governor of the Utah Rotary district. “The people have lived there for generations, in the middle of a Navajo nation.”

That’s because the Hopi choose to live that way, the way their ancestors live. They are concerned that modern conveniences will corrupt their young people. In some cities, there is no electricity nor water. And when the Hopi gather water, they lose three-quarters of it because of the holes in their buckets. That has proven difficult to one lady who Michel met that is 5 feet, 89 pounds and loses her water after walking 2,000 feet to get it.

The Hopi need corn. A lot of it. Because of their religious values and traditions, some spend 80 percent of their time growing corn. That’s why 20 members of the Brighton Interact Rotary, a club for persons 12 to 18 years old, brought corn seeds in 2008, after Michel’s daughter Jerika wanted to do a service project. That was because the Rotary is non-denominational – true to their motivation to avoid being uncorrupted from their way of life, the Hopi does not allow religiously-affiliated groups to visit for any reason.

 “That’s a privilege afforded us strictly because we are Rotarians,” Michel said. “It’s a gift to us to be able to interface with others, but we get a chance to see who they are. That will be lost, especially as the old generation dies off. There is a lot of culture and heritage that goes on. If we preserve that in our children, those stories won’t die.”

This year, young people who attend school from Brighton, Herriman, Bingham and Timpview high schools visited Oraibi.