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Seed Grant Awardee: Angela Gonzales

Na’hongvita!” (Dig Deep, Be Fit, and Use Internal Strength!): Running as a Cultural Tradition and a Pathway to Hopi Health and Well-Being

Angela Gonzales | School of Social Transformation

In 2015, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Two Hopi Traditions: Running and Winning” (Branch, 2015). The article made public the largely untold story of the tradition of running among the Hopi people. On July 26, 2016, ESPN carried this message even farther when it aired “Hopi Run,” a 30-minute film about the Hopi High School Boys’ Cross Country team and their 26 year streak as state champions (Harves, 2016). The film powerfully highlights running as a source of hope and resilience for these young runners, many of whom live in homes without electricity or running water. For viewers, the film provided a glimpse of the cultural meaning and significance of running to the Hopi people. While these two stories brought national attention to the Hopi excellence in sport running, there remains more to explore in understanding running as both a sport and a metaphor for Hopi identity and the health and wellbeing of the Hopi people.

Na’hongvita, the Hopi word called out to runners encouraging them “to dig deep, be fit, and use their internal strengths” embodies Hopi values and virtues of strength, resilience and commitment to culture and community. As part of the tribe’s traditional folklore, Hopi ancestors competed in mythic races with the animals that brought balance to the world by emphasizing their relationship and responsibility to the land and to each other (Fewkes,1892; Nabokov, 1987). Today, the tradition of running continues as part of many Hopi ceremonial events. Foot races up the steep mesa escarpment mark the beginning of traditional ceremonies as both young and old runners, or warik’aya as they are referred to in Hopi, run as representatives of their clans and for the benefit of the entire community who watch and cheer the runners on with shouts of Na’hongvita! 

For the Hopi, running intertwines athleticism and endurance with identity, culture and the survival of the Hopi people and their way of life (Gilbert, 2018). The purpose of this project is threefold: (1) create partnership with Hopi community stakeholders to explore running as a metaphor for understanding Hopi community health and well-being; (2) work with community partners to design and develop research protocol to explore the meaning and measurement of running as a pathway to health across the lifespan; and (3) demonstrate community readiness to conduct community engaged research with additional funding.

Last updated June 2019.