hopi house

Opinion

Finding Meaningful Employment on the Hopi Reservation

Marshall M.

Growing up on the Hopi Reservation, I saw firsthand how few opportunities exist for young people and how difficult it can be to find meaningful employment on the reservation.  

With this need top of mind, after completing my B.A. in Adventure Education at Fort Lewis College, I returned to the Hopi Reservation with the intention of creating programs that did not exist for me as a young person growing up there. Since 2014, I have worked to create programs to provide employment and educational opportunities for Hopi Reservation Youth. With the looming closure of a coal mine threatening what few employment opportunities do exist, this work is now more important than ever before.

Like many in the Hopi community, my first years as a young professional frustrated me because although my ideas were met with enthusiasm, no one offered any concrete help. I also had no formal training or prior experience in accounting, program development, grant writing, or personnel management. Despite these challenges, I got to work creating programs out of my office/bedroom on a salvaged office chair I found in a college dumpster.

Now I serve as the Coordinator for the Ancestral Lands Hopi program, fielding youth on conservation and environmental projects in the southwest. I am also the Founder/Director for Adventures for Hopi, a developmental adventure education program. Applying the lessons learned from my own need for support during those growing pains, I work to understand how to provide that same support for those young people and families who choose to work with me.

Working on the Reservation has its own unique set of challenges rooted in the reality that many of our young people and their families are developing an understanding of how current employment opportunities operate. For example, the need to learn how fundamental milestones in the western world—like obtaining a driver’s license or social security number—can help open doors and opportunities to move forward in life. So it is my responsibility as someone who was fortunate enough to attend college to return home and begin to teach my youth and their families more about the employment process so that they are better prepared to participate in life in and out of the reservation.

Once opportunities and openings for employment are created, the real work begins: motivating an entire generation of repressed young people to dream bigger. We must play multiple roles to help our participants see value in themselves and their future in a community where it feels like there is no real standard for success.

The truth is that our Reservation youth require more of our time and resources to succeed and see that same value in themselves than other youth do. We do not live in a normal world. We live in a place that moves much slower. It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes belief that if we work together, we will succeed.

I have only worked in this field 6 years but in that time, I have realized that big ideas and forward progress can only grow as fast as the readiness of our youth. This often feels painfully slow in a community with so much potential, so much opportunity, and so much to lose. I’ve learned to move slower, be more patient, trust the process, and learn that sometimes success isn’t always what I thought it would be.