tour guides find ways to share Hopi history and culture with visitors
while preserving privacy and protecting sacred sites
MESA, AZ - The 2014 Explore Hopi Guides are ready to help people
take a trip back in time to explore the centuries of Hopi history
firsthand, in a way that is sensitive and respectful to the Hopi
The tour guides are independent, Hopi Tribe licensed business
owners who partner with Explore Hopi. The Hopi Tribe Economic Development
Corporation (HTEDC) sponsors Explore Hopi (www.explorehopi.com).
The group hopes to provide guidance and training along with economic
development opportunities that allow Hopi tribe members to prosper
while preserving their homeland and culture.
"We don't run tours out of here," explained Explore Hopi Director
Clarice Tofoya. "We provide a cultural and educational experience
for visitors to Hopi."
What Explore Hopi does do is much of the marketing and promotion
for the guides. Because Explore Hopi operates out of the Visitor
Center located at the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa, it is
the first place many people stop.
"We send the business to the guys. They run everything. They
tell us how their business is and how we fit into that," Tofoya
said. She added that Explore Hopi promotes the tour guides at events
and art shows.
She said customers are matched with a guide who can give them
the tour they want based on the guides' knowledge and expertise.
"Each one of our guides has amazing knowledge about Hopi and
all the different aspects on it," Tofoya said. "There is so much
to see out here...there's a lot of history here."
Gary Tso has been in the tour guide business since 1998. He
said that while he enjoys meeting all different kinds of people
who each have their own reasons for wanting to come to Hopi, there
is another more important reason he wanted to work with Explore
"The contribution to the economy is also very, very important
to me," he said. "As our clients come through and they spend money
with the different artists... that is something I feel good about,
that we're able to affect a certain amount of change within the
villages at a person to person level and that is very important."
Kevin Lombardo, CEO of the HTEDC, said the tour guides are great.
"The guides provide an array of rich cultural knowledge for
visitors to Hopi. The way we set up Explore Hopi allows us to partner
with independent business people to help expand the economy on Hopi
for many including the guides, artists and businesses."
Tso pointed out that not everyone on Hopi benefits from the
tour guide industry. And the people who don't benefit may not be
in favor of tour guides bringing visitors into the 12 villages on
"We're very fortunate that the villages that are open to visitation
have let us know," he said. "Part of what we do is govern where
people go. We don't go where visitors are not invited because we
have to have the support of our people. If we make mistakes, which
we do from time to time, then it makes us unpopular and unwanted.
It is a complicated place."
Tso's son, Hunter, answers the phone and takes care of the customers
as they set up the initial tour.
"It's fun to interact with the different people and figure out
what they want to know," Hunter said. "It's helping my dad out and
he's wanting to me to start doing my own tours. It's something I
want to try doing but I don't know if I am ready for that yet."
Donald Dawahongnewa started his tour business in February 2013.
Before that he worked at the Hopi Cultural Preservation office.
He said it is his background as a teacher and his ability to use
humor to put people at ease that keeps tours coming back to him.
He conducts his tours based on a horizontal calendar, both east
and west, and some of the villages are points that are on the calendar
so he tries to make sure that the villages are aware that the tour
"If they are doing a ceremony then I stay out of that village.
I know where to draw the line," he said.
Dawahongnewa said bringing the public to the craftsmen of Hopi
is the most enjoyable aspect of the job.
"I like it," he said. "It has been rewarding."
Ronald Wadsworth is new to the touring business although he
has been a spokesman for Hopi leadership for 25 years. He believes
what makes him a good tour guide is his experience and knowledge
of the Hopi culture.
"I haven't been on that many tours yet but I really enjoy sharing
our tradition and things with the outside world," Wadsworth said.
"The tours that I have been on, the villages have been really nice.
When I do get stopped and asked what we are doing, I tell them we
have visitors to our Hopi land and they share with me, 'you should
take them to this site or to that site,' that's really a nice experience
with other peoples."
Lorna Joseph has recently begun guiding tours, too. She echoed
the other guides in her enjoyment of meeting different people from
all walks of life and sharing her own experience as a Hopi with
"We have a unique culture. A lot of people come out not knowing
about our culture and we have a lot of sacred places and things
to be respected," she said. "I like being a tour guide to let people
know why those sites are important to us."
The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office decides where tour guides
can take visitors and where visitors are not allowed. Illegal pirating
- where cultural objects are removed from Hopi - has been a problem.
Sometimes outsiders destroy sacred sites. At certain times of the
year when ceremonies take place the guides do not enter certain
villages. Tso explained that access to some sites is available by
permit only and in order to obtain a permit, a business license
is required that says the person is sanctioned to go to those sites
by the tribe. Those permits can be day long or as long as a year,
depending on the site.
"It is actually a very good system. It allows for protection
of the site," Tso said, adding that the guides and the clients are
sometimes the first line of defense for the sites. "While we don't
have any power or authority to enforce any laws, our presence, in
most cases, is enough to deter any alcohol consumption or vandalism
of a certain site."
Tso also emphasized it is important for the Hopi to establish
their cultural ties to these specific sites and to let people know
that they are affiliated with the Hopi and not other cultures around
"That's very important because we've been here longer than anybody
and that's very easy to say," Tso said. "That's always been a part
of my mission, to establish that as a culture the sites that are
around us, everyone has a certain amount of tie to. We come from
He said based on a study done during the 1990s, Hopi is a destination
place - people come specifically to visit Hopi. And with more people
visiting every day and many companies offering tours, Tso sees the
other tour guides as partners, not competition, in sharing the Hopi
culture with the outside world.
"This is a very deep culture and very, very complicated and
the sophistication of it is what has always attracted people over
time," Tso said. "It makes me proud. You talk about these things
and people's minds are blown as to how deep this culture gets."
He believes having a guided tour is a good way to see Hopi not
only because they offer an opportunity to see some sites that would
otherwise not be available but because of the information the guides
are able to offer.
"Explore Hopi and hire a guide," Tso said.