Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908–1912



Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, assistant professor of American Indian studies and history, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe from the village of upper Moencopi in northeastern Arizona. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in history from the University of California, Riverside, and M.A. in theology from Talbot School of Theology.

In January 1907, Hopi runner Louis Tewanima from northeastern Arizona enrolled at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. While at Carlisle, Tewanima joined the school’s cross-country team, won numerous races, and earned the opportunity to compete in the 1908 and 1912 Summer Olympic Games. Tewanima’s story represents his ability to redefine Hopi running in the 20th century and shows how he maneuvered within American and European perceptions of Natives and sports. His participation in running events also tells of a time when white Americans situated indigenous people on the fringes of U.S. society but embraced them when they brought honors to the country by representing the nation in athletic competitions at home and abroad. Furthermore, Tewanima’s involvement in marathons and Olympic races demonstrates the ways Americans used his success to further the ideals of U.S. nationalism as he simultaneously continued the long tradition of running among his people.

Sponsored by Native American Initiatives