Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Op-Ed | Honoring my friend, Peterson Zah, “Pizzah”

By Vernon Masayesva

Editor’s note: Vernon Masayesva, 84, is the former Hopi chairman and the founder/director of Black Mesa Trust. He resides in Kykotsmovi, Arizona.

The honorable Peterson Zah and I are credited with settling a 100-year-old Hopi-Navajo land dispute, a monumental historic achievement.

He was a jokester. One time he called Hopi men “shorties.” He joked that our arms are too short to tie a bandana behind our head, like Navajo men do, so we tie it on our side. I responded that before Zah asks me for a favor, he has to get down on his knees!


Peterson Zah

We did a skit together about Navajo and Hopi rabbit hunters, and a genie, who had the power to grant free wishes. It was a big hit at an education conference. It’s a good skit. It takes time to tell. Funny as it was, it sends a message of two tribes walking different paths, working together to fight economic, social, and environmental injustices. Zah is a warrior; I am more of a philosopher.

Zah, former Tohono O’odham Chairman Josiah Moore, and I are graduates of Arizona State University. We were invited by the former ASU president, Lattie F. Coor to be grand marshals at a football homecoming game. During the halftime ceremony, Lattie Coor introduced us as the “three amigos.”

Josiah Moore passed on several years ago. Now, Zah, I jokingly call “Pizzah,” has also moved on to the spirit world. I am now the lone amigo standing.

I know Peterson is looking down at us earthlings. He is encouraging us to walk the Beauty Way. Hopi believe there is no such thing as death, just a transition to the spirit world. The physical body dies, but water in the body ascends in gladness to join the cloud people who are our ancestors. There they rest and come back down as rain and snow to replenish our Earth Mother with fresh water so all sentient beings will nurse and live.

Water has memory. When a loved one goes home to the spirit world and you are sad and lonely, go sit by a stream and you will hear a million-voice choir. When fog descends, it is your ancestors embracing you.

When I was a child, my Grandpa Masayesva told me to say, “Thank You for visiting and for remembering me,” when a raindrop falls.

On behalf of myself, my family who have Kiyaa’áanii clan connections to Pete, and Black Mesa Trust, I offer our condolence to Rosalind, family and the Diné.

President Zah was a political diplomat but more important, a humanitarian. He is a model the new president and all future Diné presidents can follow.


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