Hopi Runners: Crossing the Terrain Between Indian and American

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, Winner of the 2018 Weber-Clements Prize


Thursday, March 26, 2020 |  The Texana  Room - Fondren Library Center, 6404 Robert S. Hyer Lane, SMU  |  5:30 reception followed by 6:00 pm award ceremony, lecture and book signing  
Co-sponsored with SMU's DeGolyer Special Collections Library

Hopi Runners (University Press of Kansas, 2018) provides a window into this venerable tradition of Hopi foot races and long distance running at a time of great consequence for Hopi culture. The book places Hopi long-distance runners within the larger context of American sport and identity from the early 1880s to the 1930s, a time when Hopis competed simultaneously for their tribal communities, Indian schools, city athletic clubs, the nation, and themselves.  Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert brings a Hopi perspective to this history. His book calls attention to Hopi philosophies of running that connected the runners to their villages; at the same time it explores the internal and external forces that strengthened and strained these cultural ties when Hopis competed in US marathons. Between 1908 and 1936 Hopi marathon runners such as Tewanima, Zeyouma, Franklin Suhu, and Harry Chaca navigated among tribal dynamics, school loyalties, and a country that closely associated sport with US nationalism. The cultural identity of these runners, Sakiestewa Gilbert contends, challenged white American perceptions of modernity, and did so in a way that had national and international dimensions. This broad perspective linked Hopi runners to athletes from around the world—including runners from Japan, Ireland, and Mexico—and thus, Hopi Runners suggests, caused non-Natives to reevaluate their understandings of sport, nationhood, and the cultures of American Indian people.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is professor of American Indian studies and history at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He is the author of Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902–1929.

The judging committee wrote:

In this engaging and accessible book, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert tells the compelling story of the Hopi long-distance runners who left their villages, competed in regional, national, and international competitions, and captured national attention in the early twentieth century. Sakiestewa Gilbert situates these runners within the context of traditional Hopi running, boarding school races, and national marathons. He demonstrates that in addition to a story of remarkable athletes, the history of Hopi runners provides a lens to examine Hopi tradition, sport, and epistemology, the encounters of Native athletes with colonial educators and mainstream American athletics, and how Hopi runners shaped (white) American perceptions of Indigenous people. Clear, sophisticated, and filled with rich narrative detail, Hopi Runners exemplifies the “fine writing and original research on the American Southwest” that the David J. Weber-Clements Prize recognizes.

The $2,500 Weber-Clements Book Prize, administered by the Western History Association, honors fine writing and original research on the American Southwest. The competition is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present. The William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies is part of SMU's Dedman College and affiliated with the Department of History. It was created to promote research, publishing, teaching and public programming in a variety of fields related to the American Southwest.  

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