Helen Sekaquaptewa, whose Hopi name was Dowanawisnima (dew-wow-iss-nima), which means a trail marked by sand, was born in Old Oraibi in 1898 during a turbulent period in Hopi history. Although her family was part of a Hopi faction called the Hostiles— those opposed to the white man’s way of life— Helen spent her life building a bridge between the two worlds.
In September 1906, when she was seven years old, the Hostiles were expelled from Old Orabi and forced to find another place to live. The husbands and fathers were arrested and sentenced to hard labor and all of the 82 school age children in the Hostile group were forcibly taken to a government boarding school in Keams Canyon. The remaining Hostiles, primarily old men and women and mothers with young children, settled in Hotevilla on the 3rd Mesa, and for the first few years experienced many difficulties, including lack of shelter and scarce food.
Helen was an excellent student and her thirst for knowledge and education led her to enroll in the Phoenix Indian School in 1915, without her parent’s permission. During her years at the Keams Canyon boarding school and later at the Phoenix Indian School, she integrated Hopi and Anglo cultures into her own life. When she returned to Hotevilla in 1918, she struggled for acceptance by her people who were still strongly traditional. Respectful of their values, but also believing that there were things in the white man’s culture that could benefit them, she taught the women in her village sanitation, health care and other household skills without abandoning traditional ways.
On February 14, 1919 Helen married Emory Sekaquaptewa, also from a Hostile family. Like Helen, Emory was a man who built bridges between the Hopi and Anglo cultures. They were married in a traditional Hopi ceremony and, despite the disapproval of Helen’s family, in a traditional white man’s marriage ceremony as well.
Helen’s life story, Me and Mine, records many of the traditions and changes in the Hopi way of life in the first half of the twentieth century. She became the matriarch of the Eagle Clan and through her book gained a central place in Hopi society. Her book also serves as an important piece of Native American literature that allows the reader to see the history and lifestyle of the Hopi Indians during the 20th century. Although her father remained a Hostile all of his life, her courage, her quiet determination and firm but gentle manner led him to tell her, “I marvel at the way you stood up against all the people, and we have all lived better because of it.”