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Coconino Voices: The importance of protecting the Sipaapuni

Coconino Voices: The importance of protecting the Sipaapuni

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  • Askwali, uma yep nat itamuy imuy öqala awk ita qaatsi puhulalwa ovi sinom yep hakam lolmat qatsit yeesiwni.
  • Prayer to the Earth: Thank you for existing and giving us your strength and energy to continue to survive in this environment while renewing and contributing to our life cycle. Therefore, we pray all civilizations will continue to live a harmonious life.

For the Hopi, the land now known as the Grand Canyon is one of the most culturally significant places in our culture and history. The Grand Canyon is the place we believe from which we emerged and will return when we pass to the next life. This land is home to sacred sites central to the culture and beliefs of thousands of Indigenous people. However, due to the Big Canyon dam proposal and the growing threat uranium mining, our sacred land is more at risk than ever.

The uranium mining industry is knocking at the door of these sacred sites, and constantly pushing to open our lands for short-term profit that could devastate critical watersheds, wildlife, land and the health of the indigenous people who call this area home. We know what uranium mining does. My people have seen the irreversible impacts of uranium mining in the Upper Colorado River Basin for generations.

The toxic legacy of this industry continues to pollute the land, water and air, causing chronic health problems for many Native people. Similarly, the Big Canyon dam's construction could flood several miles of canyons that are sacred to the Hualapai, Hopi and other surrounding tribes of the Colorado Plateau. This project would risk damaging cultural sites, harming native wildlife, including some endangered species, and risk adversely impacting waterways leading into the Grand Canyon.

If constructed, the Big Canyon project would significantly impact the sacred ceremonies and pilgrimages of my people. Participants in many of our traditional ceremonies, such as the Wuwuchim ceremony, use routes to and from the Grand Canyon to deliver prayers and offer blessings. Moreover, the Big Canyon project would render many sacred sites -- such as Hopi place of Emergence, Sipaapuni -- to be inaccessible.

Damming this part of the Grand Canyon would eradicate an essential part of our culture. Therefore, there is an urgent need to protect the Grand Canyon from incursions by supporting legislation such as the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act and opposing the permitting of Big Canyon dam.

For generations, my ancestors have fought for the protection of the Grand Canyon and sacred sites like Sipaapuni. It is now time for my generation to step up and join the fight. As a Youth Ambassador for Land Conservation with the Center for Native American Youth, I have been given the opportunity to become a knowledge keeper in protecting natural resources such as the Grand Canyon and pushing for policies that safeguard lands, waterways and sacred sites.

As the first and true caretakers of the land, it is our responsibility to protect the lands and waterways for future generations. The Ambassadors for Land Conservation will ensure that Native American youth, like myself, are at the forefront in safeguarding the sacred lands of the Grand Canyon.

Join me, and my fellow Youth Ambassadors for Land Conservation, as we use our voices to protect the Sipaapuni.

Maree Mahkewa is 21 years old. Her Indian name is Paaqupmana, which means Bamboo/Reed Girl. She is a member of the Hopi Nation and comes from the Corn Clan in the Village of Tewa. Maree is part of the inaugural cohort of the Center for Native American Youth’s Ambassadors for Land Conservation. She currently attends Northern Arizona University, where she is majoring in Environmental Sustainability Studies and minoring in Psychology and Sustainable and Resilient Communities. Maree works with the Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture Institute as an Americorps VISTA.


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