It’s a rare joy to spend an afternoon with people so at home in their skins, who connect so easily and who, despite being extraordinarily accomplished, are so down-to-earth. As soon as I clear the door, we are laughing. According to Hopi philosophy, says Marian Denipah, “You do your best with what little you have.” For Marian and her husband, Steve LaRance, this refrain runs in their blood. What they have, they gladly share.
“I first saw Steve at a powwow in Ft. Lewis,” Marian says, “but I approached him in Denver, at another powwow—this was a social dance—and I grabbed him! I knew other girls were trying to claim him, Pueblos and Navajo, Sioux girls, too. All along, I wanted to marry a Native guy, and my mom said she respected the Hopi, which is what Steve is, so I thought, ‘Even better!’” They dated for 10 years and then married.
Raised on Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, Marian and her brothers and sisters were in and out of the house their grandfather built on his farm. “My grandfather was governor of the Pueblo many times,” she says. “He would take us fishing. My dad and the Navajo side of the family were hunters. When I was young, my mom always had a garden. Because we lived off the land, we all grew up knowing how.”
As soon as they were ready to start a family, the couple knew that, because of all the partying, the heroin and alcoholism, Española was not where they wanted to raise kids. So they moved to Flagstaff, close by Hopiland and Steve’s home village of Munquapi. “Our kids all got Hopi names,” Steve says. “They were able to participate in some of the social dances there; they became familiar with the language, the culture, the ceremonies. They especially thought the women’s basket dance was really exciting,” he explains. “I look at Hopi culture as being a little more untouched,” Marian adds admiringly. “And they got to try some of our foods,” Steve continues, “like our piki bread and other blue-corn dishes. Our daughter Nizhoni learned basketweaving from her Hopi grandmother. They know their Hopi cousins and other relatives.”
“Because we’re both artists,” Marian says, “working at home, we could be more available to our kids growing up.” Steve continues, “Our studio in Arizona was just 20 steps from the house, so we could watch them jump on the trampoline while we worked.” The family continued traveling back to New Mexico to visit Tewa relatives and to compete in Indian Market every year. Once Cree, their youngest, graduated from high school four years ago, Marian was ready to leave Flagstaff. “I couldn’t make anything grow there—it’s too cold.” They were deliberating between the Big Island in Hawaii and Tucson, Marian says, “when my mom got wind we were moving. She said, ‘No, no, no, I’ll give you my house and the land—I can’t do this anymore!’” Steve adds, “Marian’s mom was already getting elderly. She hadn’t planted in five years, the house was in disarray—so we moved back.” Continue reading