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Know the West

Lori Piestewa's real lesson

  l Recently, High Country News and other papers ran rather long stories about Lori Piestewa, a Hopi lady in the armed forces who was killed over in Iraq (HCN, 5/26/03: The tangled messages of a servicewoman killed in combat).

I doubt that many of the Hopis thought very highly of her joining the military. The Hopis are probably among the most peaceful people on earth. As far as I know, they have never had a war, not with the U.S., not with Mexico, not even with their warlike neighbors, the Navajos. And yet, the Hopis have probably survived and kept their culture better than any of the other Indian tribes. One of their villages, Oraibi, is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States. One is reminded of Jesus’ saying, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

In fact, even the name Hopi means “peace” or “the people of peace.” If a Hopi does something mean or violent, this is said to be cahopi (not Hopi). During World War II, there were at least 12 Hopi young men who refused to be inducted into the military and were sentenced to do time in a federal prison. One can say, “Well, 12 isn’t very many,” but, when one considers that this is out of a population of about 8,000, it’s a pretty high percentage compared to the number of conscientious objectors in the U.S. population.

So, why do editors think Lori Piestewa’s story is worth printing? One possible explanation might be that they want to draw our attention to the fact that there are some people who don’t believe in war, and are trying to live by that belief. Personally, I hope so, because another Hopi belief is that some day men will come up with something so dangerous and powerful that they can destroy the earth with it. Some of them believe this thing is the atom bomb, and that the end is not far off.

Chuck Worley
Cedaredge, Colorado

The author was a conscientious objector, and served prison time with a number of Hopi conscientious objectors during World War II.