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Celebrating Trailblazers – April’s Journey

Diving into the depths of history through the eyes of those who’ve lived it offers a rare, enlightening perspective on our collective past. In this exclusive interview, we celebrate Women’s History Month by spotlighting April Sewequaptewa-Tutt, a Hopi matriarch and Indigenous archaeologist, whose remarkable journey intersects the realms of heritage, research, and groundbreaking exploration. April’s unique path from a curious student to a revered protector of cultural legacy not only challenges the conventional narratives of archaeology but also paves the way for future generations to embrace a more inclusive understanding of our shared history. Join us as April shares her inspiring story, revealing the strength, wisdom, and resilience that have defined her trailblazing career.

When did you first learn about archaeology?

“During my freshman year at NAU I took an Intro to Anthropology course. In this class we had to do an ethnography project and I interviewed my grandmother for the project. I learned so much from that project about my grandmother, that I realized that so much could be learned from the past. From that semester forward I pursued Anthropology as my major. However, I actually did not graduate with a Bachelors in Anthropology. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in History, after two attempts to pass my 4th year of Spanish which was required for the Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology. I was double majoring, but I was in my 5th year of school, and I wanted to be done. I had enough credits for a history degree, so I decided to not go another semester.”

Why were you interested in pursuing it as a career?

“In the beginning, you really don’t know what to expect. There are so many different types of jobs that you can do in archaeology. My first experience was in the laboratory and it is where I spent most of my “field” career. I found the washing and cleaning of artifacts, whether it was painted ceramics, stone tools, or even soil samples, was just as interesting as finding the same items at the excavation sites. I also found the laboratory to be very important to the process of archaeology and I was already a very detail oriented person, that organization came very easy to me. The other thing I found was that since my grandmother was a potter I had some “inside” knowledge of ceramics and design. I would then relate my own experiences to features and artifacts when I eventually moved to participating in excavation. At the time, I was usually the only Native American working on a crew, so it was also surreal to see the disconnect that some of my co-workers had with their job. For some, it was cool to excavate and there was excitement about what could be found, but for me, sometimes it was hard to feel the same. As I was connected to these sites and items. So I tried my best to help others see the humanity in what they were excavating or seeing while out on survey. It’s important to remember that one will not know they are doing anything wrong, unless they are told. So I realized it was important for me to be on the ground and in the field with people, to help them remember that it’s not just the past. That these things still mean a lot to many people.”

How did you become an archaeologist?

My initial entry into archaeology began in 2000 when I was hired to wash artifacts for the excavation that was occurring for the new Tempe Substation in 2000. I was a recent graduate out of NAU and while I was searching for a job, I had no idea where to start. So I opened up the phone book and looked for “Anthropology”, but there was no category for that. There was one, however, for “Archaeology”. So I went down the list of companies and the company that gave me a chance started with an S. So I had made many phone calls that day. I worked for them for about 2 years, which is rare to be employed for more than a couple months when you are being a “shovel bum,” but it’s also where I realized I preferred laboratory work to actual field work.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

“I have been an archaeologist for 24 years now and have now transitioned to being a “desk archaeologist” and very rarely get into the field. This part of my career focuses on management of sites and the possible impacts to sites that could occur when roads are being maintained or a variety of transportation projects. This requires me to consult with tribes and also provide cultural training to construction crews, as needed. I feel more seen and heard as an Indigenous person, as I feel I finally have a place at the table and can make meaningful changes for Indigenous communities. It took me a while to get to the point, but I am glad to have this opportunity and I hope I can inspire Natives to do the same.”

What is challenging about your work?

“The most challenging part has been being the only Indigenous person at a company. Whether in the field or in an office, whether cleaning artifacts or protecting sites, I felt alone in my connection to my job. I never saw this as a job, but I actually saw myself as a protector. I hold very traditional values and felt that I was meant to be doing what I am doing and if there ever came a time when I was given a sign to not do this work, I would move on. Another part that I found challenging is that archaeology was a very male dominated profession and it is also very centered on your level of education. The hours were very early and the work was manual labor in very harsh temperatures. As a mother, I was lucky to have a partner who helped with daycare drop off, as well as having a family who was available to travel with me for months at a time while I worked in other states. I also only had a bachelor’s degree, so that also limited my experience, regardless if I had a historical connection. Many of these factors drew me to laboratory work. Laboratory work kept me home more, the hours were more flexible, and I was usually employed for longer periods of time.”

What do you hope the future of archaeology will be like?

“I can envision the future of archaeology to include more Indigenous people and communities, regardless of education. The personal and spiritual knowledge of a Native person is powerful. Everyone has a different perspective and it only makes sense that if you are studying the past of an existing culture, that you would utilize them. Some of the best field archaeologists I know are from the local communities. It’s important to remember that archaeology is not just excavation, there are many different types of jobs that can be done within the spiritual and traditional boundaries that each Native has for themselves. I just firmly believe that we should be the ones to help protect our past, and that can only be done when we are at the same table as everyone else. It’s important for Indigenous people to understand that archaeology needs the Indigenous perspective and influence. We should be the ones to help control the flow of information and research, but we are currently working backwards and it’s hard and frustrating at times. The stigma of archaeology within Indigenous communities can only change if we see what needs work and if we are there to make the change.”

As an Indigenous woman, are there any cultural considerations that you have to take into account doing archaeological work?

“As a Hopi woman, everything that I have experienced through my 24 years as an Archaeologist, is something that I should not have ventured into. However, how do I explain that I have been told in many different ways, by colleagues and tribal elders, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be? My traditional and spiritual values have always guided me and there came a point where I had to stop listening to actual people and listen to the spirits that I knew were always there with me. As a Hopi, my life is very different from my colleagues. I have a set of core values and those values provide me guidance on what to do and what not to do. I was guided by those values and spirits to participate in field surveys, the washing of artifacts, and even in the excavation of human remains. There has only been one time where I refused a job duty (and after it was fully excavated, it was clear why), but my willingness to perform most archaeological duties is what makes my perspective on archaeology and preservation unique. I have seen all parts and how they all fit together. It’s what I know helps me to make better decisions on site protection and management now.”

As we conclude our journey with April, whose voice has illuminated the path for both Indigenous peoples and women in archaeology, we’re reminded of the power of perspective in shaping our understanding of history. April’s story is a beacon for aspiring archaeologists, advocates of cultural preservation, and anyone who believes in the strength of diversity to enrich our collective knowledge. We invite you to carry forward the spirit of inquiry and respect that April embodies. Share her story, support Indigenous-led archaeological initiatives, and engage in dialogues that honor and protect our diverse heritage. Together, let’s commit to making the past a foundation for inclusive and enlightened futures. Explore, learn, and contribute—because history is not just about the past; it’s a guidepost for the paths we choose today.

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