Hopi Tradition as Jurisdiction: On the Potentializing Limits of Hopi Sovereignty


Justin B. Richland is Associate Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society at UC Irvine. The research for this article was supported with grants from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Justice (Award # 2000-IC-VX-0004), and the UC Irvine Council on Research, Computing and Library Resources. The author would like to thank Eve Darian-Smith and Nick Buchanan, and the rest of the participants in this symposium, for commenting on earlier versions of this article. Any remaining errors in this article are the author's alone.


In this article I reconsider Hopi tradition as jurisdiction—reflexive moments of Hopi legal discourse that orient to the limits of Hopi sovereignty, even as they presuppose its power. I explore these themes in two significant moments of Hopi political history. First, I consider the uses of tradition in the creation of the contemporary Hopi tribe through the field notes of the US agent charged with drafting the 1936 Hopi Constitution. Then I consider more contemporary uses of tradition in recent Hopi tribal court cases that extended judicial power over matters reserved for local village leadership. Both instances suggest efforts to potentialize tribal power even as they orient explicitly to the limits of that authority. These traditions are thus, ironically, understood not as replaying Euro-American logics of nationalist totalities, but as indigenous sociopolitical actions that unsettle static representations of Hopi cultural identity and the sovereignty claimed through them.