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home : latest news : latest news February 05, 2016

9/22/2013 6:00:00 AM
Long-lost Hopi Snake Dancer film resurfaces: Screens Sept. 27 in Sedona during Festival of American Indian Arts
Courtesy photoThe 1957 film “Lost Dances of the Hopi Cliff Dwellers” was given to the Verde Valley Archaeology Center of Camp Verde, which in conjunction with the Hopi tribe restored it using a National Film Preservation Foundation grant.
Courtesy photo
The 1957 film “Lost Dances of the Hopi Cliff Dwellers” was given to the Verde Valley Archaeology Center of Camp Verde, which in conjunction with the Hopi tribe restored it using a National Film Preservation Foundation grant.
Courtesy photoA scene from “Lost Dances of the Hopi Cliff Dwellers.”
Courtesy photo
A scene from “Lost Dances of the Hopi Cliff Dwellers.”
Special to the Courier

The Hopi Tribe and Verde Valley Archaeology Center will premiere a newly restored 1957 film about Hopi Snake Dancers Friday during the center's Festival of American Indian Arts.

The first public showing of "Lost Dances of the Hopi Cliff Dwellers" will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the Sedona Creative Life Center, 333 Schnebly Hill Road, alongside two current films by Native American filmmakers. Tickets for the open seating are $10. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The movies are part of the Archaeology Center's Festival of American Indian Arts.

The festival continues Saturday and Sunday with the 5th annual American Indian Invitational Art Show at the Camp Verde Community Center, 395 S. Main St. Admission is free.

More information about the entire Festival of American Indian Arts is available at or by calling the Verde Valley Archaeology Center at 928-567-0066.

After two successful performances in Carnegie Hall in 1957, a group of Hopi dancers returned to Second Mesa and made a film of some of their dances and Hopi culture.

The film was made by Milo Billingsley, who then used it to tour the country to talk about his life among the Hopi.

The film was thought lost after Billingsley's death in 1981.

However, the film was given to the Verde Valley Archaeology Center of Camp Verde in 2010.

With the Hopi Tribe, the center applied for and received a National Film Preservation Foundation grant to restore and preserve the film. They hired a Hollywood restoration company.

M.W. Billingsley was born in 1890 in Iowa. He became fascinated with the Hopi after hearing about them from a relative. He saved up $300 and, at age 14, without his parents' knowledge, he bought a ticket to Winslow in 1904 where he met Lorenzo Hubbell, a trader who helped many American Indians become self-sufficient by promoting the sale of Navajo art. Billingsley made his way to the Hopi tribe with the help of a Hopi who worked at the trading post. He visited with the Hopi of Second Mesa. He stayed about six weeks until his father figured out where he went and came to get him. When he turned 18, Billingsley left home again and went back to the Hopi.

In 1921, the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent told the Hopi that some church people had petitioned Congress to make them stop their snake dancing. The Hopi asked Billingsley what they could do. Billingsley began a series of meetings with Washington politicians to stall the petition. Billingsley formed a group of dancers and chanters to show that the dances should not be stopped. He took the dancers on a tour of performances across the country.

In 1926 they received an invitation to appear in Washington, D.C. A special platform was erected on the Capitol steps.

Billingsley opened with a plea to retain their religious ceremonials and described each of the dances. Following the performance, Congress passed a resolution giving the Hopi permission to carry on their dancing "for all time."

The troupe continued to perform, including at the New York World's Fair in 1939. In the early 1950s an opera was written entitled "Hopitu" based on ancient Hopi legends, incorporating Hopi dancers and chanters.

It was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1956 and again in 1957. It was also performed at the Philadelphia Opera House and other venues. Shortly after their return, the 16mm film was made.

Two newer films

Combining profiles of contemporary bands with fresh historical research, "Sousa on the Rez: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum" offers viewers an unexpected and engaging picture of this little-known native music scene. The documentary challenges viewers to expand their definition of Native American music, and broadens their understanding of contemporary Indian life.

The other newer Native American film will be "Standing Bear's Footsteps," which tells the story of the Ponca Nation's exile from Nebraska to the malaria-infested plains of Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

After the banishment, to honor his dying son's last wish to be buried in his homeland, Chief Standing Bear and his small clan set off on a frigid, 600-mile journey back to their former home. Enroute, they were arrested and imprisoned at Fort Omaha for leaving the reservation.

Standing Bear and his band were about to be sent back when Standing Bear decided to sue a famous U.S. army general for his freedom - choosing to fight injustice not with weapons, but with words. The chief stood before the court to prove that an Indian was a person under the law.

This documentary weaves interviews, re-creations and present-day scenes to tell a story about human rights.

"I am a man," Chief Standing Bear said at his trial. "The same God made us both."

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