Published on August 29, 2013 by Amy
Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White) (1892-1990) was born in Old Oraibi, Third Mesa, in 1892. Educated at Mennonite boarding schools away from the Hopi reservation, she adopted the Christian religion. When she returned home, she found her attempts to convert her people were met with hostility. Eventually she decided to become a teacher. Qoyawayma remembered how she was taught at boarding schools to renounce her own Hopi culture and language and instead developed a different method of instruction for Hopi schoolchildren that she taught. Her techniques taught concepts such as math and science by using Hopi legends and language, thereby allowing children to retain their native cultural and language ties as well as instill a sense of pride in their identity. Qoyawayma was criticized at first for her revolutionary teaching methods, but later won awards for her ideas.
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Quoyawayma was also a noted author. She wrote the novel Sun Girl as well as her autobiography, No Turning Back, which chronicled her struggles in attempting to negotiate both her native Hopi world and the world of the Anglo.
Qoyawayma became a renowned potter in her later years. She used a distinctive type of clay and also incorporated a raised pattern design, usually corn or Kokopelli symbols, which were unique to her work.
Qoyawayma understood that her earlier decision to renounce her culture was wrong, and became known for her efforts to honor and help the Hopi people. She remained on the Hopi reservation where she continued to help her people better themselves through education until her death on December 6, 1990.