Woodruff Butte, Arizona

Once a clearly visible peak from the Arizona plain, Woodruff Butte stood as a five-hundred-foot cinder cone. To most non-natives in the area, the butte was thought of as nothing more than “real estate to be carved up and sold” (Taliman and Zwinger 38). To the Hopi people, though, Woodruff Butte, or Tsimontukwi, was considered sacred land. The butte had been a site for prayer and gathering materials for Hopi practices for over 1,000 years; often eaglets were collected for ceremonies, as were healing plants. The butte was the site at which the Hopi sent prayers for rain and was where, yearly, Hopi religious leaders would bring sacred prayer feathers to the shrines and would perform pipe ceremonies (Woodruff Journal).

In addition to being a place to gather and collect materials for sacred ceremonies, Woodruff Butte was a place of at least eight religious Hopi shrines (In the Light of Reverence). Of these shrines, one was dedicated to the Creator of the Hopi’s current world, Ma’asaw. This three-foot-tall pile of stones was the most sacred of the Hopi shrines (Woodruff Journal).

Unfortunately, a private landowner by the name Mr. Turley was convinced to allow Woodruff Butte be ground up into gravel for infrastructure purposes in 1990; the gravel was sold and used as asphalt for Interstate 40. Turley’s initial response to Hopi objections was to sell Woodruff Butte to them for $1 million. At a price too high to afford, the Hopi people were unable to buy the property rights on their sacred land, an outcome that may or may not have been the intention of the landowner. Consequently, Mr. Turley proceeded with the gravel mining.

A following landowner, Dale McKinnon, continued with the gravel mining when he took over property rights of Woodruff Butte in 1996. His specific view of the butte was expressed inthe documentary In the Light of Reverence; “I didn’t realize I was destroying anything but a big ugly pile of rocks out in the middle of nowhere”. Like Turley, McKinnon reacted to the concerns of the Hopi people by offering a compromise. His said ‘compromise’ was an offer to sell Woodruff Butte to the Hopi at a selling price of $3 million; $2 million more than the Hopi already could not afford. Again unable to afford the rights to their sacred place, the butte stayed under the control of McKinnon.

As a final attempt to save Woodruff Butte (or what was left of it), the Hopi turned to the National Historic Preservation Act. The NHPA was meant to help stop the destruction of the butte and sacred shrines as well as document the religious significance of the site. For unidentified and unexplained reasons, however, the archaeologist employed “failed to make note of any [of the eight or more religious Hopi] shrines in his report to the court (Taliman and Zwinger 39). As a result the gravel mining continued.

The final outcome was devastating for the Hopi. Along with the destruction and pulverization of the butte went the majority of the sacred Hopi shrines, as well as the nests of eagles that previously found refuge on the butte. According to In the Light of Reverence, only one of the eight religious shrines may have been left untouched. The continuous elimination

of Hopi shrines and sacred land is threatening the Hopi religion and way of life.

– Elena Biagioni

Work Cited:

Dongoske, Kurt E., T.J. Ferguson, Leigh Jenkins. “Managing Hopi Sacred Sites to Protect Religious Freedom.” Cultural Survival Quarterly (1996): Issue 19.4. Hopi Outreach. Web. 11 Feb 2011

Gary, Ken, Karen Knorowski, and Ekkehart Malotki. Hopi Stories of Witchcraft, Shamanism, and Magic. University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

In the Light of Reverence. Documentary by Christopher McCloud.

Taliman, Valerie, and Susan Zwinger. “Sacred Landscapes.” Sierra 87 (2002): 38-39. EBSCOhost. Web. 27 Feb. 2011

“Woodruff Journal; After Mining, a Furor Over a Shrine.” New York Times (1991): n.pag. Web. 11 Feb 2011

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