What a place. I had been wanting to come here for a while and I finally got to visit! Located just outside of Moab, Utah, this national park is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, hundreds of pinnacles, and balanced rocks. This red rock landscape is out of this world; with its contrasting shapes, colors, and textures. 65 million years ago, this area in modern day Utah was a sea that had dried up. Over time, the landscape changed, and the red sandstone emerged from below the dry seabed due to geologic forces. Water also aided in the process of the formation of these arches. All of the arches in the park are not permanent, as the landscape continues to change over a slow period of time. Even in our own lifetime, arches have fallen, such as the Wall Arch in 2008.
People have been coming to this area in Utah for thousands of years. The first visitors weren’t just sightseers, though. About 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers migrated to the area at the end of an Ice Age. They made tools out of chert and chalcedony. Around 2,000 years ago, in the Four Corners region, these nomadic hunter-gatherers began to farm and cultivate plants like corn, beans, and squash. Few dwellings have been found in the park. This could be due to a couple of reasons. The modern day park resides at the northern edge of what was considered Puebloan territory. They might have just visited seasonally, or their dwellings could possibly have been lost to time. However, there are several rock paintings in the park that do indicate a Native American presence.
Tribes that have connections to the land in Arches National Park are the Zuni, Hopi, Ute, and Paiute. These tribes believe Arches to be a very special and powerful place. The park was once a ceremonial area for those that lived and farmed in the Moab valley. This area was also where trade took place, as Moab is the only major crossing of the mighty Colorado River for hundreds of miles. These tribes have described the arches as portals in space and time. The arches are a part of tribal religious practices that still are occurring today. Rock spires are believed to be sentient beings that provide help and resources to people. It is of the utmost importance to remember that this land is sacred to Native Americans and to keep this in mind while visiting Arches National Park. Be respectful and mindful of the land you are walking upon.
During my time in Arches National Park, I visited Balanced Rock, the North Window Arch, and Sand Dune Arch. I also got a great view of Turret Arch. The plan was to see Delicate Arch as well, but the day that I went, the overlook was closed. This just means I will have to go back one day, which I am eager to do anyway! I am amazed by the red color of the rock. It is such a striking color and something so foreign to me, being from the east cost. Every time I go out west I’m left wanting to see more places. If you happen to visit this park, go early. When I went, I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and by the time I was leaving the park in early afternoon, rangers had closed the park because it was at full capacity. Lines of cars were waiting outside, hoping to get in. Do yourself a favor and get up early!
Out of all the books I read for my research for this project, I have to say that I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People contributed the most to my knowledge of the Havasupai tribe. Written by Stephen Hirst in 2006, this has to be one of the most credible sources I have because Hirst himself stayed with Havasupai to gather all the information for his book. He is also a historian. He first came to the Havasupai reservation in 1967 with his wife to operate their Head start preschool. During the eleven years that they lived in Havasu Canyon, they formed an unbreakable bond with the tribe. The Havasupai asked the Hirst family to research and document their efforts to regain their ancestral lands. I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People is the result of this work. Today, the Hirsts live in Flagstaff where they continue to work with the Havasupai tribe.
Hirst dedicated the book to the tribe and even signed the rights over to them so that they would receive the profits from sales. I personally admire this, as it is his way of respecting the tribe and their way of life. In the preface, he states that the reader is about to learn about the Havasupai from their point of view. Hirst conducted interviews over the course of seventeen years that he and his wife spent working with the tribe on their traditional lands.
The book consists of twelve chapters. The first chapter is an overview of the tribe and their ways of life. Hirst tells the reader about Havasu Canyon, the home of the tribe. He also details Havasupai family life and gives the reader information about how family life is highly prized in their community. There is also a section in the first chapter that discusses how they have dealt with Anglo-Americans coming to the area in the 1800s. In the first chapter, the reader learns about the tribe’s winter lands which were taken from them by the United States government. These plateau lands that are used in the winter are the tribe’s lifeline during this cold and desolate season. This chapter paves the way for the reader to be able to comprehend the Havasupai’s struggle to regain their ancestral lands that began in the 1800s and their eventual victory in 1975 when they had over 100,000 acres restored to them .
Chapter Two goes in-depth about their ancient history. This chapter begins with language, and how the Havasupai tongue is very similar to the Hualapai. Readers of this chapter learn about the first humans arriving in North America across the land bridge near the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age and where they settled. The reader also learns about how the Havasupai have been influenced by surrounding Anasazi cultures. Then the chapter shifts to discussing the connection to the plateaus and “winterlands” that were taken from them. We then learn more details about the first European contact. Much of this chapter is what I based my post on about their ancient history and connections to the Grand Canyon area.
The third chapter. This chapter explains how the Havasupai used the upperlands for hunting during winter and how in the summer the tribe would reunite in the canyon. By 1850, government surveyors began to move into Havasupai territory in hopes of finding a way for a transcontinental railroad. The reader also learns about early expeditions into the canyon and along the Colorado River. On March 3, 1865, Congress established the territory of Arizona. In doing so, Congress also called for an Indian reservation for the Havasupai on 75,000 acres of land. In 1882, the tribe effectively lost their voices and rights when they were placed on a reservation by President Chester Arthur. It only got worse from there, when their winter lands were taken from them by the United States government because this brought starvation and misery to the tribe. This chapter also has reproduced letters in it between superintendent Henry P. Ewing and the Board of Indian Commissioners that showcase the struggle between representatives of the Havasupai and the government that ensued right from the start of their relations.
Chapters four and five continue to discuss the Havasupai’s struggle with the United States government into the early 1900s. There are sections about grazing permits as well as the natural flooding disaster that the Havasupai were subject to in 1910. This, combined with an influenza epidemic, and their already established land issues, only worsened the plight of the tribe. This chapter enriches the already tragic story of the tribe’s fight to regain their ancestral lands. Chapter five is incredibly short and is called “Supai Charley.” It is a story told by a tribal member named Lemuel Paya in 1972. He described an event from 1914 to Stephen Hirst. The event has to do with family, conflict, cattle, and death. Unfortunately this story in this chapter is not a happy one. It ends with a haygu, or white person, killing a Havasupai tribal member. Again, the reader is able to make connections about the hardships the Havsupai have endured since they came in contact with Anglo-Americans.
The next chapter, six, picks back up with the narrative of the Havasupai and their loss of land. By 1914, there was talk of setting aside the Grand Canyon for national park purposes. In this section we learn about how the government only viewed the land for profit while the Havasupai have a very different view. This chapter also includes letters about how the Grand Canyon became part of the National Park Service. On February 26, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson effectively created Grand Canyon National Park by signing it into law.
Chapter seven is called “A Season on the Plateau.” This is Hirst’s tale he came up with himself, based on the old way of life for the Havasupai, which steadily began to disappear in the 20 century as modernity arrived in the canyon. His basis for this chapter came from hours of listening to stories from tribal members and elders. The time period for this story is set in the 1920s and 1930s. This tale helps the reader understand the loss of culture that ensued upon losing land rights.
Four of the final chapters continue to discuss the process in which the Havasupai had to go through in order to regain their lands. The final chapter ends with the Havasupai’s victory in 1975 when they regained their lands through an incredibly long process and court battles. Chapter nine is another story, called “The Track of the Cat” which was translated from when the story was told in 1973.
From the beginning when the first group of people arrived in North America to their epic struggle to regain their lands and eventually winning, the Havasupai have had a long and colorful history. Their story is of a tribe that was once restrained to a too-small reservation, and this book by Stephen Hirst dives right into this epic tale, not leaving out any details. I highly recommend this book to anyone as a starting point to learning more about the Havasupai tribe.
Hirst, Stephen. I Am the Grand Canyon: the Story of the Havasupai People. Grand Canyon Association, 2006.
During the 1800s and into the early 1900s, the United States government took it upon themselves to educate and assimilate Native American children into Anglo-American culture. A young school teacher, named Flora Gregg Iliff came to Arizona in the year 1900 to teach Native American school children. She started by teaching the Walapai children, today known as the Hualapai, the sister-tribe of the Havasupai. By the time Iliff reached the Havasupai reservation, the tribe had been reduced to this small tract of land for about eight years. In her later years, after collecting letters from her mother upon her death, she decided to write a book on her experiences with the Hualapai and the Havasupai tribes. In her book, People of the Blue Water: A Record of Life Among the Walapai and Havasupai Indians, she details her time spent with these Native Americans. Today, all that remains of Iliff’s schoolhouse on the Havasupai reservation are the foundations and the school bell. A great flood in 1910 ravaged Havasu Canyon, and took the original schoolhouse with its chaos and destruction. Until 1983, that same bell was used to teach the Havasupai children in a one-room schoolhouse. Through reading Iliff’s book, we gain a better understanding of the Havasupai tribe and their encounters with Anglo-Americans in the days before Grand Canyon was declared a national park.
In late June of 1900, Flora Gregg Iliff was prepared to submit her resignation. She had been teaching on the Walapai (Hualapai) reservation and according to her, “This first hard year in a small Indian school had left me completely discouraged” (Iliff, 89). Before she had a chance to leave the state of Arizona, she was given an offer to be the temporary superintendent of the Havasupai reservation. She took this position, knowing that she would be pretty much cut off from the outside world. The reservation received mail twice a week, because of its extremely remote location. Thus, Iliff left for the reservation, also knowing that she would be in charge of 250 tribal members and teaching 70 pupils. She also would be in charge of sending reports to Washington D.C. Her salary for all this work was $75 a month.
Iliff described her first look at Havasu Canyon, “The Havasu Canyon cuts across the high plateau of north-central Arizona from Bill Williams’ Mountain on the south to the Grand Canyon on the north, forming a part of that great system of canyons. The perpendicular red sandstone walls, from three to six hundred feet high, resemble those of the canyon we had just descended and, like them, shut out our view of all but a narrow strip of sky. Above the rim of the red inner gorge rises the outer canyon, a tumbled wilderness of white limestone, mounting higher and higher until it merges with the plateau” (Iliff, 99).
Iliff was given a small stone house that had a simple desk and swivel chair in it for her office as superintendent. Her schoolhouse was a wide and low building against the canyon wall. “Everywhere I heard the gurgle and splash of running water.” she said (Iliff,100). She described herself and the Havasupai tribe as using the creek water for drinking and every household purpose. “At the village, the Indians too used it in their homes and to irrigate their gardens and orchards.” Iliff said (Iliff, 101). She noted that one would expect Havasu Creek to be plentiful and full of fish, but the tribe told her that no fish lived in the waters. Her first night in the canyon, she discovered a yellow scorpion in her bed, which she promptly crushed.
Describing the school children she taught, Iliff said, “The children were timid, but wholesome and obedient and gifted with a pleasing native charm for they had come in contact with almost no white people except those employed at the school. Their complexions were light, because most of their day was without sunshine. They came to school with faces cleanly scrubbed, hair sleek and often still dripping wet, and wearing clean uniforms. They had that beautiful stream” (Iliff, 106).
During her time with the Havasupai, she met George Wharton James and even toured some of the famous Havasupai waterfalls with him. She also observed many of the Havasupai customs. In her book, she writes about how the Havasupai men outnumbered the Havasupai women in those days, and that often when a girl reached the age of fifteen she had many suitors asking for her hand. She also wrote that some members of the tribe had polygamous marriages. Divorce was an unknown concept, and very rarely were there separations from relationships.
Iliff recalls the tradition of baby girls having their ears pierced in her book as well. According to tribal custom, babies would have their ears pierced in several places with thorns. A thread was used to keep the wounds open, and deer fat was then rubbed into the wound to prevent infection. When girls became old enough, they would wear bright strings of beads, silver ornaments, or even brightly colored pieces of wood. During her time with the Havasupai, she also witnessed spiritual rituals and shamanism. Although a Christian, Iliff observed these religious practices with wonder and curiosity.
Iliff’s account of the Havasupai tribe in the early 1900s is important, because she was an eye-witness to how these ancestral lands were commercialized from the very beginning. She writes, “With shocking suddenness we learned that the Blue Water was to be commercialized. Mr. Ewing wrote that an Eastern firm had been granted the authority to harness Mooney Falls to manufacture electrical power for distribution to cities in Arizona and neighboring states.” She continued, “Miners had once worked the ledges on the walls for silver, but never had the Indians’ authority over the Blue Water or its canyon been questioned. These white men who were now tinkering with old Mooney Falls did not consult the Indians.” It was clear that Iliif had a soft spot for the tribe, unlike many others at the time who viewed them as savages and uncivilized.
Iliff stayed with the Havasupai from June to November in the year 1900. When she left the Havasupai reservation, the tribe was sad to see her go. In fact, they asked her to stay. “Few farewells have been so difficult for me.” Iliff said (Iliff, 204). She had thoroughly enjoyed her time with the tribe, and she had even survived the historic flash flood of 1900 that raged through Havasu Canyon and that had decimated the reservation. She took comfort in knowing that by returning to the Walapai, some of the older Havasupai students would join her there in a classroom.
After her teaching years, Iliff remarked, “The many years that I spent with the Indians had proved to be more than an adventure; they were an education. They had taught me the beauty of unquestioning faith, of dignity and a tranquil mind. An Indian, standing with face uplifted to the morning light, communing with his gods, has become to me a symbol- a symbol of oneness and with the spiritual world.”
Iliff’s record of her life in Havasu Canyon is incredibly important. It, for one, shows that she had a unique perspective of this Native American tribe, especially for the time period that she lived in. Through her personal accounts, readers get the inside look at what life was like in the Grand Canyon over a hundred years ago for the Havasupai tribe on their reservation. It also sheds a light on the issues of land loss before Grand Canyon National Park was established, proving that this tribe’s rights had been violated right from the very start.
Iliff, Flora Gregg. People of the Blue Water: a Record of Life among the Walapai and Havasupai Indians. University of Arizona Press, 1990, 1954.
Word reached Grand Canyon National Park officials in 1969 that the Havasupai were trying to claim land settlement. The park immediately began consulting with members of the Sierra Club 1 to make a plan that would incorporate all of the Havasupai permit areas into the national park and limit the tribe to more restrictive conditions. The park service and the Sierra Club went through three drafts of their plan before it was brought to the Havasupai’s attention.
The tribe’s attorney, Joseph R. Babbitt of Flagstaff, obtained a copy of the park’s draft. It was called “A Master Plan for the Grand Canyon National Park.” It stated: “The charm and beauty of Havasu Canyon is attracting more and more people, who threaten the area with results of their heavy impact on a limited, rather fragile environment. With extensive development on the reservation, the Havasupai may lose the charm and beauty of their environment and ultimately the qualities that attract the visitor… Resource management, visitor use, recreation, grazing, and similar plans will be made with the Havasupai Tribal Council, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Forest Service.” They were going to incorporate the reservation into the park.
There was one problem with this plan, however. The Havasupai Tribal Council noticed that the Master Plan map did not show the existence of the Havasupai Reservation, but rather depicted it as part of the national park itself. The Master plan continued, “There is a continuing concern for providing sufficient camping capacity for tourists who are within and moving through the region… Private campgrounds are meeting some of the demand. Indian reservations offer a great potential for this and other recreational activities…. The trail from Hualapai Hilltop to Havasu Campground will be managed for high visitor use. Addition of Cataract [Havasu] Canyon… will give Park protection to this scenic and scientific area rim to rim… the Moqui Trail, an old Indian trail used for centuries by the Havasupais and other tribes, is also located within this addition.” They wanted to include it in tourism.
Immediately following reading the Master Plan of the park service, the tribal council held a discussion with the Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent, Robert R. Lovegren. He listened sympathetically to their grievances and said he would see if any adjustments could be made to the plan. He informed the tribe that the National Park Service would be holding public hearings on the Master Plan at Grand Canyon Village on May 18, 1971. Even though the park had not scheduled any time for the Havasupai to testify originally, Chairman of the council at the time, Lee Marshall, decided he would represent the tribe and bring forth all their feelings at the hearing. After hours of speeches, it was finally Marshall’s turn. He looked around the room and smiled before he spoke. Then he said, “I heard all you people talking about the Grand Canyon. Well, you’re looking at it. I am the Grand Canyon!” He pushed the issue that those who were so concerned about the fragile ecology of the canyon were blind to the ecology of the natives that had been there for such a long time.
His response to the Master Plan was as follows: “We want our freedom from the park lands and forest lands which surround our reservation. Land doesn’t talk; wild plants don’t talk; wild animals don’t talk, even the beauty of our canyon doesn’t talk, but our Great Spirit and mother nature have a way to care for them. Wild plants, wilderness, forests, wild animals and fowls of the air were put on this mother earth for a purpose; that purpose was that men could gather and eat and save what they can. Even our ancestors’ bones are dug up, placed in glass containers and displayed on shelves to tell a story to canyon visitors of prehistoric creatures roaming our lands.”
Marshall advocated that the tiny canyon reservation would become a jungle of government housing if it was enveloped into the park service. He instead proposed that the Havasupai traditional use areas be returned to them so they could run a cattle business, have places to live, and jobs for the young. He also asked for the return of the National Park Service campground and the Havasupai residence area at the park village. He also said that the park must treat the Havasupai preferentially in terms of employment.
In July of 1971, Superintendent Lovegren contacted the Havasupai and informed them that he would be open to returning 60,500 acres of park land to them. Although the tribe viewed this as a step in the right direction, there were still some kinks to be worked out. Despite the area that Lovegren proposed to return to the tribe, the park still wanted to take Great Thumb Mesa and the residence camp at Grand Canyon away from them. Also, there was no mention of forest lands being returned to them. When the council tried to meet with Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Keith Pfefferle, he said that the U.S. Forest Service regulations did not allow his agency to give up land without receiving any in return. He did, however, offer to continue their permit as long as it remained in the public interest to do so.
In early August of 1971, the Havasupai Tribal council called in elders to discuss what the tribe had to do in order to be self-sufficient and independent. After a discussion that took all day, Lee Marshall and Juan Sineylla came up with a counterproposal to the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Their plan spelled out their demands clearly: They wanted the return of park and forest permit areas, including Pasture Wash. This is essentially what the tribe had been trying to do for more than half a century. The council also asked for the return of 200,000 acres of private lands located within the 1866 Atlantic and Pacific Railroad grant to the south of the reservation. Marshall’s final request was to keep Grand Canyon Village for the Havasupai tribe. He said he could not permit the National Park Service to drive away the people that were still living there. “We want the Indian Village forever.” he said. On August 18 and September 30 in 1971, representatives from the Havasupai tribe brought their counterproposal forward to the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Neither agency would consider the tribe’s plan.
By 1972, next year in the fall, the Havasupai had made little progress in regaining their ancestral lands. It was in November of this year that the tribe learned that Senator Goldwater of Arizona would be putting forth a plan in Congress to expand Grand Canyon National Park. On December 12, 1972, the tribe sent a telegram to Senator Goldwater. The tribe asked him to meet with them in Supai. As soon as Senator Goldwater saw the telegram, he contacted the tribal council and agreed to meet with them on January 27, 1973. The tribe prepared themselves to meet with Senator Goldwater and once again spelled out their demands on paper. The entire council signed the paper, including Chairman Oscar Paya, Vice Chairman Clark Jack, Ervin Crook, Augustine Hanna, Lloyd Hanna, Stanley Manakaja, and Leon Rogers.
Senator Goldwater listened closely to the tribal council during the meeting. After tribal members finished speaking, Senator Goldwater’s response was, “We are in better shape to get land than we have been in many years… I can promise you at least a favorable hearing on your proposal, and I think we can work it into the bill.” This was a pivotal moment for the tribe, as they now had a government official speaking as their ally. Cautious, however, Senator Goldwater also said, “I have no hesitancy offering the whole ball of wax. I hope we would have no trouble getting your wants met. I promise to put in everything you ask for, but I can’t promise you’ll get it.”
After two months of waiting, on March 20 the Havasupai Tribe learned that Senator Goldwater had introduced the expansion plan to the United States Senate as S. 1296. Goldwater brought up the expansion of the Havasupai Reservation too, and named their position often. “The bill includes a very significant proposal for restoring the Havasupai tribe of Indians some of their sacred and ancestral lands. This tribe of some 300 individuals includes the remaining descendants of a people who once lived on millions of acres in the Grand Canyon and the Coconino Plateau in northern Arizona. In fact, the eastern neighbors of the Havasupai, the Hopis, depict the Havasupais in their ancient traditions as keepers of the Grand Canyon and its sacred places… I am impressed at the youth and vision of the new Council members of the Havasupai Tribal Council. I believe these leaders have the energy and the will to guide the Havasupai back into a self-sustaining people with tribal control over their own lives. The bill we are proposing would help these wonderful people to survive. They are the natives of the Grand Canyon and surely any bill relating to the ecology of the canyon should include protection of the human beings who live there.”
Following the introduction of the bill, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth started a nationwide campaign stating their stance being against the Havasupai tribe having land returned to them. They spread lies saying the Havasupai wanted land returned to them for development or leasing it to a developer. In fact, the National Park Service had already started these sorts of projects. In 1970, part of the park service’s Master Plan was to devote the South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park for mass tourism, while the North Rim would remain a limited use wilderness area.
Initial hearings on the Grand Canyon Bill were scheduled for June 20, 1973. On the day of the hearings, the Department of the Interior released a statement with their thoughts on the bill. It stated, “We strongly recommend that any decision on transferring land from the National Park System, as well as other Federal land, to the Havasupai Reservation be deferred for a year until the department is able to carefully review this proposition.” To make matters worse, the Department of Interior suggested that lands be withheld from the Havasupai tribe through the U.S. Forest Service.
The tribal council sent Vice Chairman Clark Jack and Councilman Augstine Hannah to be present at the tribe’s hearing. Senator Goldwater led the hearing. When it was time to speak on expanding the Havasupai reservation, he said, “When we consider that about three hundred Indians live on a little over five hundred acres, I don’t think that is exactly fair in anybody’s book and I do hope you can work out some solution which will help these fine people to survive.”
Next, the witnesses for the National Park Service spoke. Then, the U.S. Forest Service’s Thomas C. Nelson spoke, and said, “The Indian claim and public values associated with this area need detailed study. The National Forest lands for inclusion in the reservation are presently used by both Indians and the general public. The Administration plans to study the new Indian claim and uses and values of this area and present its recommendation at a later time.” Then, the Sierra Club’s southwest representative spoke on why these lands should not be returned.
At last, it was the Havasupai’s turn to speak. Vice Chairman Clark Jack went first, saying, “We do not seek these lands to develop them into any big business, as some so-called environmentalists claim. This malicious report is designed only to get our land for themselves. There is no basis to this belief. We ask for these lands to give our people a home again on the plateau. Many of our people were born there. We love these lands where we gave birth, built our lives and returned our old people to the earth. Our old homes and burial grounds lie on these lands. Our historical, emotional, and legal ties and claims to these plateau lands we have outlined are so powerful and they are undeniable to any who view them. We invite you to view them. We believe the reservation we propose is the only one which can provide us with the essential plateau lands which would assume tribal control of our lives and sacred places forever.”
Some months of delay ensued, and finally the House of Representatives announced that hearings would be held again on November 12, 1973. At this hearing, Lee Marshall went to represent the tribe. The tribe sent with Marshall twenty four detailed pages of evidence and history of their fight to regain their lands. This stack of many papers included maps, copies of former bills, and letters dating back to 1885 that explained the tribe’s need for plateau land.
After the hearings were finished, the Sierra Club decided that they would meet with the Havasupai on December 2. This meeting was a win for the tribe, as they left having come to an agreement with the Sierra Club and gained them as an ally.
Finally, after a decades-long battle, the House voted on whether or not to give the Havasupai their land back. The bill passed, with the votes being 180 in favor and 147 opposed. The Havasupai had achieved one of the most important victories in Native American history in the 20 century. Their long campaign finally had come to an end. With President Gerald Ford’s signature, the bill officially came into effect. For the Havasupai tribe, this was a historic moment, because the amount of land returned to the Havasupai is the largest amount of land ever restored to a Native American tribe to date. Now, the Havasupai could look to the future with hope and security. Thus, today, their quiet lifestyle still persists in the canyon, 800 years after their first appearance in the Grand Canyon.
Environmental organization with chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico as well.
Hirst, Stephen. I Am the Grand Canyon: the Story of the Havasupai People. Grand Canyon Association, 2006.
When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the canyon in 1903, he told his fellow Americans that in Arizona they had, “a natural wonder which… is absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.” He then continued, saying that the land should never be blemished by the hands of humans. “Leave it as it is,” he said, “You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”
This ideology eventually led to the birth of Grand Canyon National Park. Long before this, the Spanish had already made their way into the Southwest region in September of 1540. They found the Colorado River too difficult to navigate, and finding nothing of importance to them, they promptly left and focused their endeavors in Texas. By the 1930s, white trappers had entered this part of Arizona. In 1869, John Wesley Powell was the first white man to explore the entire canyon. Within a decade of Powell exploring, miners, railroad surveyors, and tourists began to flood into Arizona. Another decade later, President Benjamin Harrison established the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve. Theodore Roosevelt reclassified the land as a game preserve in 1906. Two years after this, Roosevelt changed the name again and Grand Canyon became a national monument through the Antiquities Act of 1906. 1 Once the Topeka and Santa Fe railroad reached the South Rim in 1901, tourism exploded. Finally, in February of 1919, Grand Canyon National Park was born.
As with other national parks, such as Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, and Glacier, this national park process ignored Native American rights and prior occupation. A great indicator of this are the modern names that are associated with Grand Canyon National Park. Of the 230 places in the park that are named, eight are Havasupai words, 13 are Paiute, and four of them are Hopi. Most of the places in the Grand Canyon have names that originate in Asia and Egypt. As with Glacier and Mesa Verde, Native American legends as well as the people themselves served as tourist attractions and labor crews. In the beginning at Grand Canyon National Park, employment of Native Americans was a rare occurrence, as well as native interaction with tourists.
For years after the park’s formation, Native Americans were seldom mentioned by the National Park Service. Unpublished park documents do indicate that there were frequent and intense interactions between the native people. A report from 1932 mentioned the Havasupai on one page out of seven volumes. It listed structures at their village. Invisible in official reports, eventually native workers began to be hired to work for the park by the Fred Harvey Corporation. Fred Harvey is the man behind the Hopi House and El Tovar Lodge. Hopi House is a reconstructed Pueblo dwelling, while the lodge was built for tourists to have a place to stay. He also promoted native motifs as well as native entertainers at tourist facilities. Harvey replicated the Puebloan tower above Tanner Canyon, which in time has become a controversial topic. It was clear from the beginning that natives were seen, but not really heard.
The Havasupai worked for money in Grand Canyon Village, on trails, and they constructed a sewage plant as well as a suspension bridge above the Colorado River. Through these jobs, a residential camp was formed, called Supai Village. Natives worked as guides and packed horses for tourists. Natives who did not work for the park that wandered through Grand Canyon Village could face expulsion. Packers who left dead horses to decompose on the trails would also find themselves in trouble, even facing arrest. In northern Arizona in the 1920s and 1930s, most natives viewed tourists and rangers with confusion and resentment. The average visitor saw the natives as quaint people who sold their wares and danced.
Some employees of Grand Canyon, such as Michael Harrison, went the extra mile to study the Navajo and the Hopi. Few rangers between 1920 and 1950 made the same effort to understand the native peoples that had lived on this land for so long. If only these rangers had educated themselves, perhaps by reading George Wharton James’ What the White Man May Learn from Indians (1908), Indians of the Painted Desert (1911), or In and Around the Grand Canyon (1911), then they might have been able to look past their own culture. If there had been more awareness from the beginning, then maybe the natives in the area would not have such a complicated relationship with the National Park Service like they still do today. James was one of the few white men in Arizona who recognized the Havasupai. He recognized the other tribes in the area as well, embraced their diversity and respected them, as well as praising their skills and habits which he considered himself superior to white culture. He knew that the Havasupai once occupied the entire Coconino Plateau and he never undermined this.
In 1923, Dama Margaret Smith had worked for the park service less than two years when she published, The Home of a Doomed Race in an issue of Good Housekeeping. Upon her visit to Supai Village, she found that “the noble red man” was a vanishing race of superstitious and fear-ridden people. They were savages and weaklings that easily succumbed to disease, in her words. She decided to look into a kiva once, and that was enough for her to decide that the government must suppress pagan worship. Seven years later, Smith gathered her observations that she had written and put them into an autobiography called I Married a Ranger. In it, she continued to ridicule most natives. “Indians! Navajos!” she said in one chapter, were people who made gaudy rugs that appealed to the gypsy streak in her. These were rugs that “Navajo bucks” peddled door to door at Grand Canyon Village.
Smith worked for the NPS during the first decade Grand Canyon National Park existed. I Married a Ranger was endorsed by the Associate Director, Arno B Cammerer, who found it “most humorous” and “delightful.” A few years later, Cammerer would call for the removal of the Havasupai tribe from their reservation. It is obvious that proper ethnic language use and attitudes were of no concern during the park’s first fifty years of existence. Instead, the NPS was focused on expanding their boundaries even more for land use and tourism. After 1930, the NPS began to face opposition from its greedy hunger to acquire native lands. Conservationist Frederick Law Olmsted II recommended in 1948 that the Grand Canyon expand past Havasupai land.
Efforts soon were in place to get rid of Supai Village. By the 1950s, the Havasupai had changed. Once known for their friendliness, hard work, and resistance to white culture, now the tribe was frustrated and full of despair. The tribe began to assert themselves. Residents at Supai Camp hired a lawyer to establish title to that site as well as a place called Indian Gardens. (footnote) They also did this to fight for their right to hunt in the park on their ancestral lands. A ranger complained that he had never seen these members “so aggressive in their thinking toward the National Park Service.” In November of 1955, the park effectively evicted natives living there that did not work for the park service. Their shacks were removed as well. Some Havasupai went to Peach Springs, Seligman, and Hualapai Hilltop. Others hid with their friends while some had secret shelters in the woods. By 1960, the park service had not only “cleaned up” Supai Village, but it was starting to push for removing native hogans 2 and log cabins along the rim. In 1967, rangers confiscated the belongings of William Little Jim and burned down his cabin on the plateau. This only added fuel to the fire of resentment towards the NPS and outsiders that was already growing strongly. This resentment would reach its climax in the 1970s, when the Havasupai stood up and fought to regain their ancestral lands.
Gave the President the power to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments.”
A traditional hut made of logs and earth.
Keller, Robert H., and Michael F. Turek. American Indians and National Parks. Univ. of Arizona Press.
The story in this blog post is called Havasu Sam and it is from the Havasupai tribe. It comes from a book called Turtle Dream: Collected Stories from the Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, and Havasupai People. This book was written by Gerald Hausman. Hausman experienced these stories with his Native American friends in the Southwest. Havasu Sam is a story about bravery and rights of passage. Hausman has been friends with Sam since he was in fifth grade and he credits Sam with helping him overcome his fear of heights.
The story starts with a man, named Jim, sitting on a log near the canyon and thinking. Now 18, he is remembering something that happened in the canyon eight years ago, when he was 10. He thought about how the years had gone, and the hole in the canyon wall where spirits lived. Jim ponders if the ghosts are trapped together in the hole. Reminiscing on his life, Jim doesn’t feel any older, or any smarter. He had left the Canyon and been away at a private white boarding school where he learned that being Indian was neither a privilege nor a problem: “It was merely a fact, one he would just as soon forget about, because he would rather not be reminded of the difference… the color of his skin, the shape of his face, the indirect way he looked at things” (qtd. Hausman, 29).
So Jim had come back to the canyon. Jim thinks this is not where he belongs anymore. It was just where he had been before. He then remembers his friend, who he describes as troublesome and being unable to forget. This friend is called Sam. Havasu Sam, the waterfall man. He wants to laugh when he thinks of his old friend, but he knows that if he does it will bring tears. Jim reminisces and sees in his mind’s eye Sam climbing along the edge of the canyon cliffs, his fingers spread out like spiders. Jim could never forget Sam and compares him to being a part of himself like a fault is to stone.
Hausman says on page 30, “Sam was something alright. And what was he, Jim, next to Sam? A shadow? A ghost in the canyon wall” (Hausman 30). Jim is struggling with his identity, because he is half Havasupai. He belonged in the canyon, but because his father is Navajo, he feels that he does not really belong. Jim prefers open space, the country, and horizontal land. He secretly loathes the village where his mother was from. He stayed in this village from June to August and dreamed of open space.
Jim then goes on to discuss how he sees Sam as the Havasu mentor of his childhood. There is a place called Navajo Falls, where every summer a group of boys take the same dare. They crossed the cliff, climbed behind the falls, and jumped several hundred feet into the bluest water that can be found in the West. Jim remembers how he was afraid of jumping into the waterfall. The thought of it made him tremble with fear. He could think of nothing worse than jumping into that cascade of white water. He was terrified of heights.
His other childhood friends, one by one, would leap out to avoid the cliff and plummet into the water below. The cliff was the one that jutted out and looked like the wing of a broken hawk. Not only did the boys have to be cautious about landing wrong but they had to be weary of falling on the hawk’s wing which was jagged and could possibly impale somebody. Jim remembers trying to jump off, but being unable to because of his fear. He remembers Sam finding him near the cliff, gripping the moss-covered rock, crying like a baby. Jim doesn’t remember how he got back home that night, describing it as a blur. He knew it had been dark and he made it back, but other than that he had no memory of the experience.
After that, he didn’t come to the canyon anymore. He abandoned his mother and his family. Now, after his 18th birthday, he had come back. He knew that despite going to private school, there was something here he had left unfinished that he had to complete. So Jim had accepted his mother’s invitation to return, and here Jim was, waiting for his old friend Havasu Sam on a hot day in August.
Sam came up so quietly that Jim didn’t hear him. The look and smell of Sam appeared to be older to Jim. Jim describes his smile as easy and slow, and “going away like smoke” (Hausman, 33). Jim, on the other hand, thinks to himself that he probably smelled like the city. The two old friends shook hands. Sam squatted on his haunches, removed his straw hat and then tied a red bandana around his forehead. His hair was long and blue-black in the hot summer sun.
No words were exchanged. While Sam wiped the sweat from his eyes, Jim noticed the acne scars on his face from his teenage years. His face was well-scarred, especially in his large fat nose. Jim did not find Sam to be handsome at all. The two looked at each other, and Sam finally spoke. “You know, he said, “nothing changes. There you are and I here I am. And here’s this big hunk of hole they call the Grand Canyon” (Hausman, 34). Sam’s voice came easy and was soothing.
Sam then asks what is up with Jim. Jim replies that he went to private school and now has a job. He coughs to hide his embarrassment, but Sam catches on and says, “who cares?” He tells Jim it is what he has chosen. Sam then goes on to explain what he does now, which is stacking hay bales, packing mules, “and answer dumb tourists’ questions” (Hausman, 35).
Sam then says to Jim, “So you’re going to have a go at it again, are you?” Jim noticed the mockery in Sam’s voice and stood up straight, squaring his shoulders. Jim tells himself it is just fifty steps and after all is really simple. Halfway through the first twenty steps, Jim froze; what if Sam, even after all these years, still despised Jim’s cowardice? This thought caused Jim to break out in a sweat. Sam, who was in front of him, came back to Jim. It was just like before, Sam coming to help with his spider-like outstretched fingers.
“I can help you.” Sam said.
“Don’t. Not yet.” Jim replied. The fear was eating away at Jim now with sharp claws in his stomach and his heart was thundering in his chest. He pressed himself into the rock, while Sam sat next to him unafraid. The spray from the falls was washing their faces in the wind as they shivered. Sam told Jim whatever he does, he should not look down below. He advised him to keep his eyes on his hands moving across the rocks, then to turn suddenly and jump out as far as his body would allow. He told Jim to let his bones go soft and drop like a baby bird straight down. And so Jim plummeted into the redeeming waters below.
I chose to include this story on my blog and to be a part of my research because I found it to be important to the Havasupai tribe and culture. They commonly refer to themselves as “the people of the blue-green water.” The streams and waterfalls on the Havasupai reservation are sacred to the tribe, and as we see in this story, jumping off the cliff of a waterfall is a rite of passage for them, to demonstrate that they are able to overcome bravery. This is typical in Native American culture; a physical act of courage. In general, water is scarce in the Southwest, therefore that element in this story holds significance as well for the Havasupai tribe. Today, non-natives can access these waterfalls on the reservation, but only if they have a permit and have made reservations. Currently, due to COVID-19, the Havasupai tribe is not permitting anyone on their land.
Sources used: Hausman, Gerald, and Sid Hausman. Turtle Dream: Collected Stories from the Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, and Havasupai People. Mariposa Pub., 1989.
The following stories are Havasupai legends that were collected by Carma Lee Smithson in the summer of 1958. She collected twenty-six stories total, but for the purpose of this blog and project, I will be sharing three stories with you. These are called the Origin Story, Havasu Canyon Walls Closing Up, and Frog Rock. You can find these stories and more in Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon.
The Havasupai origin legend goes like this. People once lived under the earth somewhere, but nobody knows where. They lived underground where it was dark with no sun. There was a pool of water near their living space and just a few families. Two brothers, who were leaders, told their people what to do all the time. One day, one of the men that lived underground planted a grape seed by the pool. The seed grew into a grapevine and grew very fast. It grew in a spiral way then shot up straight above ground. The people climbed the first part of the grapevine and stayed there for the night. Then they climbed the next part and stayed there for another night. It is not known how many times they spent the night like this, sleeping on the parts of the grapevine, until they reached the surface of the Earth.
Back at the camp, underground, there was a young woman whom none of the men wanted to marry. She was jealous of other women. One day she was sitting beside the pool looking into the water when some women came with jars to collect the liquid for drink. One of the women said, “Why do you run off like this? We want you to come home.” The woman grabbed the young one’s hair sitting by the pool and began inspecting her hair for lice. She saw many scars and asked what they were.
The young woman was mad that the men did not like her, so she came up with something that the men would like. She turned herself into a tobacco plant that grew beside the pool. The men gathered the leaves and took them back to camp. The men put the tobacco in the middle of their circle and started smoking it. Then the tobacco changed back into the young woman and she said, “I thought you men didn’t like me!” and she laughed and went off alone. A few days later the young woman was missing, so a woman went to the spring searching for her. She found her, and inspected her head again for lice. The woman tried to grab her, to inquire about her scars again, but the young woman leapt into the pool and avoided her questions. Instead, she turned into a frog and the water began to rise.
In the meantime, the men were sitting and talking. They were talking about this world. Small game was plentiful, but they could not get close enough to see it in the dark. They asked their leader to make a light so they could see to shoot their game. Older Brother said, “Yes I can make a sun. But first you must go to bed and this will be night. Then someone must call, ‘It is daybreak, there will be a dawn in the east. The sun will come up and move across the sky to the west.’” The people did as they were told, but at dawn the moon came up instead of the sun. Older Brother said, “We’ll call this Sun and we can see small game to kill it.” However, Younger Brother disagreed, and said, “No, that isn’t bright enough. It looks shady and we can’t see good enough.” He described the moon as looking like an old man.
Younger Brother took a pipe wrapped around with sinew. He told his people to go to bed like they did before and he would make a sun and call this one another name. At daybreak, the sun came up and it was bright enough so they called the other one a moon. According to Havasupai legend, in those times, the sky was about half as high as it is now. The clouds passed by low and the sun went across the sky too fast. Younger Brother took a cane and pushed the sky higher so that the sun and sky would be together. Then the people began to go where they could see grass, springs, and other things in the world. They found plenty of game and thought this would be a good way to live.
It was at this time that the frog-woman made the spring rise up through a hole to the first coil of the vine, then to the second, and then up to the top until the water was covering the earth. The people put a small girl in a log. They gave her food, water, birds, and animals. Two men told her she would be going up and down in the water and that everyone would drown. They told the little girl to remember the San Francisco Peaks so she could find it if she came back to earth in another place. Her mission was to get water from a spring on top of the peaks.
The water covered the earth and drowned all of the people except the little girl. It rose to the top of the sky. A lone woodpecker hung to the top of the sky. He called, “Gi-u Gi-yu.” Water touched his tail feathers but he managed to escape. The water receded, because it knew that all of the people had drowned. In this origin story, the water thought like a person and had human-like characteristics. The little girl in her log came to rest near Grand Falls, a waterfall on the Little Colorado River. This was the first place that the girl made camp. The mud was soft and she made horses, grinding rocks, pots; anything she could think of. After a while, she got tired of staying in the same place so she set out to find the mountain and the spring the two men had told her about. She found the spring, dripping from overhanging rocks. She used the water to cook.
The girl had grown up and was lonely. She decided to make another person. One morning when it was early, she laid down and spread her legs. The sun’s rays hit her womb. After this, she took a dip in the waterfall and became pregnant. She had a baby girl 1 and together they lived happily until her daughter was grown.
Then the mother told her daughter to do as she had done. The daughter did so, and became pregnant with a baby boy. This boy grew big enough to hunt and he hunted many animals. He was the first to come to Supai, 2 the modern day home of the Havasupai tribe. Here, the Havasupai believe that the rock walls closed to kill people and to prevent them from entering. The boy was a fast runner and one day he jumped in and retrieved some reeds before the walls could close in on him.
Then, the boy took an animal hide and smeared it with blood. An eagle descended and carried the boy off to its nest. He killed eight big eagles and four little ones and took all of their feathers. He prayed and blew his breath, and the rock turned into sand so he could walk down and return to camp. When he returned to camp, he made arrows with the eagle feathers. He lived there for a while at camp. One day he met a man. His father was the dripping spring who impregnated his mother. He could assume both forms. The man had some horses and asked the boy which he would like for himself. The boy picked his best horse, a roan, and although reluctant, the father gave it to the boy.
The man then said, “Son, you must be like me.” He laid the boy down on the ground and split him open. He placed a lightning bolt inside of his body. The man said, “I am the sun and the water and now you will be like me forever. Come on and I’ll show you the world.” They visited a tree in the sky and many other places. The boy then returned home and lived with his mother for many years. He then decided it was not good to stay in one place all the time. So his grandmother said, “I’ll go west and take the big horses. You go east and take the little horses. If you want to see me anytime, in the spring or the fall, if the days are windy or cloudy, I’ll know you are coming to see me. I’ll give you seeds. You can scatter them along with the rain. You can say this will be grass, food, pinyons 3, and other plants. There are many people in the world but they fight one another and we will do this to keep them going.” So the boy went east and his grandmother went west. When the weather is windy or stormy, the Havasupai know the boy is visiting his grandmother. This concludes the origin story of the Havasupai.
Havasu Canyon Walls Closing Up
The legend surrounding Havasu Canyon 4 and its walls closing up has three versions. In the first version, Coyote said that long ago the walls of Havasu Canyon used to close and open so no one would come down into the canyon. Many people were crushed between the walls. Then two boys came down with arrows and tried to stop the walls from closing. They shot arrows at the walls and this stopped them from closing. After this, people could pass through the canyon. The second version states as well that the canyon walls long ago would move back and forth and kill anyone who tried to pass through. This happened repeatedly until many people were unfortunately killed. Then a man came and wondered how he could stop this. He carried a big log on his head to the walls. The walls closed in around the log, which left an opening clear for people to pass through safely.
The third version of this story is the longest. An old lady lived somewhere on the plateau and she had two boys. While they were on the plains they saw many game animals such as wild deer and rabbits. They wondered how they would get them and kill them for food. Finally, they asked their old mother how to shoot them. She told them they have to use an arrow, but it had to be made with feathers and points. They asked where to get reeds for the arrows and she told them it was a dangerous place and she did not want them to go. The reeds grew in the canyon in a place that was full of bones. They did not tell their mother they were going. They cut two long juniper trees and started down to the canyon carrying the logs on their heads. When they made it to Havasu Creek 5, the walls closed up. The boys were smart, however, and placed the logs in between so the walls could not completely close. They got the reeds they needed for their arrows and when their mother asked how they did it, they told her nothing.
Frog Rock is a Havasupai story that concerns a rock formation on top of Redwall limestone near Supai Village. The legend goes that a frog came from the ocean in the west looking for a good place to stay. He crossed the Colorado River and then spent four more nights jumping around and playing close to the river. He took about a month more to arrive in Havasupai Canyon. 6 He was ready to jump when he saw the river below. He was on the very edge of the rim when he turned to stone and could not jump anymore. A local culture hero named Bagiova, turned the frog to stone and made him stay right there for the Havasupai.
Other Havasupai legends
Like most Native American mythology, Havasupai legends revolve around animals, family, and journeys or quests. There is great wisdom in these stories for the tribe. These stories are meaningful and full of symbolism, especially symbols from nature and animals. Their animal legends focus on creatures familiar to them, which include the coyote, eagle, bear, bat, gila monster, turkey, fox, and hawk. Other legends that do not focus mainly on animals are about menstruation, being unable to have children, marriage, grandparents, and the sun and his daughters. Since the Havasupai had no knowledge of science, naturally they believed that the world around them was related to their origins and thus they found religious significance as well in their canyon environment.
Another version says she was impregnated by the sun’s rays.
Capital of the modern-day Havasupai Reservation, their main home for centuries.
A type of pine tree that grows in the Southwest.
Where Supai is located.
Located on the Havasupai Reservation and features many notable blue-green waterfalls that the tribe holds dear to their hearts.
Another name for Havasu Canyon.
Smithson, Carma Lee, and Robert C. Euler. Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. University of Utah Press, 1994.
Welcome back to my blog. In this post, I would like to share with you some information about the Havasupai and their religion. I hope you enjoy learning something new.
To the Havasupai, the world is flat. This is what they believe. The sky is a great dome that meets the earth all around the edges. The earth, in the middle, is rather small, but the sky is vast and very high. The middle of the world is the Hvehasahpatch, or “Big Rock Mountain.” Today, we know these mountains as the San Francisco Peaks, which are the highest peaks in Arizona. They are north of Flagstaff and visible from all parts of Havasupai territory except deep in the gorges of the Grand Canyon. The prominent visibility of these mountains connects to Havasupai culture, as they viewed the peaks as the central part of their world. Geographically, the San Francisco Peaks are near the Southeastern part of their former range which have eroded with time.
The Havasupai believe that below the surface, underground, the world consists of four levels. The sky, above ground, has four levels as well. Shamans, according to Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon, are said to have seen these different levels underground, which were inhabited by people with wings, also known as sky people, or miabadjih. The Havasupai recognize six directions, including the zenith and the nadir as parts of the celestial sphere. This means that the Havasupai acknowledge north, south, east, and west as four directions, but view the zenith and nadir as directions as well despite being in the celestial sphere. The Pacific Ocean, 500 miles to the west, was vaguely acknowledged before Europeans arrived; they learned of its existence from the Mohave, who traded with coastal peoples in California and in return traded with the Havasupai.
Sacred places exist for the Havasupai and are often associated with spirits. These spirits, who could be ancestors or other souls, are thought to inhabit Gray Mountain1 on the eastern boundary of the Havasupai’s historic range. The San Francisco Peaks and Mount Sinyella2 are also thought to contain spirits. If these spirits are appeased, the Havasupai believe they will bring rain. Certain places in the Havasupai world are particularly associated with their need in this arid region for rain. The Havasupai sometimes visit a rock formation at the end of the Great Thumb3 peninsula in the Grand Canyon, for instance, in hopes of conjuring rain. It is considered dangerous by the Havasupai to visit these sites, lest visitors might cause too much rain or wind, which could blow people off the canyon walls. To the Havasupai, every spring contains spirits as well. Offerings such as tobacco, peaches, and dried corn are made to the water spirits. Women that are menstruating are advised to avoid visiting these springs because if they do, the water might disappear.
The Havasupai conception of the soul intertwines closely with the heart. Their word for the soul in fact means “the heart” and “works inside with the blood.” A person has only one soul. They believe souls enter individuals from the east. When a person dies, their soul leaves the body to journey to meet the sky people. Shamans report that souls leave the body through the area in the throat where the pulse is. The soul then goes straight up into the air and then wanders around for a little bit until it sees “the narrow path that leads to the place of the dead.”
If a body is buried with the head facing west, the soul will stay with the body and not meet the sky people. They believe that the souls of shamans, however, depart for a separate place in the sky after they die. If one commits suicide, that person’s soul will join other souls in the west that wanted to die. A malevolent spirit is thought to live in the west and he attempts to persuade people to join him there. To the east, there is a spirit who had the opposite of the western spirit’s intentions. This eastern spirit is white and the one in the west is black. They often quarreled over individuals, each spirit trying to attract souls to their spheres. When they fought, the eastern spirit would turn half of the world white, while the western spirit turned the other half black.
The Havasupai believe that at death, a person becomes unconscious and has no knowledge of what is happening to them. After death, the deceased knows his identity, relatives, where he lived, but he would not remember his illness. After death, souls took the forms of cats, dogs, or a person and they could return as ghosts. This process happened at night, and if a ghost attempted to return and communicate with a friend, that friend would then become sick and die. If a ghost appeared in a darkened form or like a fire burning read, they were considered to be more dangerous. If one tried to touch a ghost, they would then become weak. If one heard a ghost cry out, then that person would then become unconscious and a shaman would be called to sing for that person.
The Havasupai also believed in omens, some of which portended death. If they hear an owl hooting during the day or late in the evening, it means that a close relative is dying somewhere. The noise of a porcupine had the same meaning. If a member of the tribe is traveling at night and sees a red fire burning in the distance, this also means death. If a snake appeared from inside a wickiup4, someone is sick or had had an accident and would most likely die. If a husband killed a snake while his wife was pregnant, the baby’s legs would be weak.
The Havasupai believe sickness is caused by bad dreams, sorcery, or supernatural forces. If one had an upsetting dream, a shaman would be contacted so he could exorcise the evil from that person. This would be done by sucking from the patient or through song. Shamans practiced this by sucking with lips directly on the skin, using cupped hands, or by pulling with their mouth from a distance. This is thought to pull the sickness out of one’s body. Shamans are thought to be sorcerers who can produce illness in others but cure them too. Bone fractures are thought to be caused by evil shamans, either living or dead. Shamans themselves could become ill if they made mistakes in curing others and disobeying instructions from their spirits.
Diagnoses of illness is accompanied by a shaman singing special songs. These special songs are answered by the shaman’s spirit, often in the form of an old woman or young boy who are sky people. The woman lives in the west and the boy lives in the east. Each shaman had his own individual songs to attract his spirit. Various illnesses take specific forms and colors as they appear to the shaman, but the true form of an illness is not entirely revealed until the shaman sings his last song. Pneumonia, for instance, is round, a smoky gray color and mixed with blood. Influenza is round but appears blue and silver in color. Occasionally a shaman would wear feathers in his hair while curing. The patient would have feathers placed on their body as well along with white paint. Shamans typically practiced alone, but on occasion would have assistants.
The Havasupai had virtually no preventative or beneficial medicine, other than their personal superstitions and beliefs. Strips of porcupine skin with quills attached are worn on a hat or the back of a shirt to ward off illness. Obsidian is worn as a pendant as warded off illness. Only a few plants and minerals are thought to have medicinal value. Sap from a willow stem is applied to acne. Grass ashes are used and spread over open sores. A pinch of salt, either dried or dissolved, is blown into sore eyes. Needles from a Douglas fir are boiled and the tea from it was drunk to stop excessive bleeding. Juniper leaves are used to remedy diarrhea. As a contraceptive method, a woman could urinate on red ants, or eat the meat of a cottontail rabbit or antelope. If a woman wanted to conceive easily, all she had to do was eat more prairie dog meat.
The sweat lodge used by the Havasupai served both ritual and therapeutic purposes. It was mainly for men, but people who had been injured would receive part of their treatment in these structures. Four people is the ideal number to be present in a sweat lodge. These people enter backwards, with the shaman taking his place near the heated rocks. Sweet smelling herbs are often hung in bundles above the rocks and the floor would be covered with willow or cottonwood branches. Openings to the sweat lodges always face east. Songs that are sung in sweat lodges were not to be used outside of them. Men remain in sweat lodges for fifteen to twenty minutes. They would rub their bodies with sand in front of the entry, a process thought to remove their afflictions. After using a sweat lodge, it was customary to bathe in the river. Women are allowed to use sweat lodges too, but it was customary to attend with their husbands. Children are also permitted, but did not use the sweat lodges as frequently. However, pregnant or menstruating women were advised not to use the sweat lodge. Should a man and a woman be discovered together alone in a sweat lodge, the structure would be abandoned.
When the Havasupai suspects an individual is near death, relatives try to stay close by. The ill person or relative sings a song, as this ensures that the individual will “keep the song” after they have died. Keeping the song ensures that the individual leaves their physical body to meet with the sky people. Wailing begins before death as well. Upon death, relatives will wash the corpse and dress it in clean clothes. A blanket is then wrapped around the body and sewn together, leaving only the face showing. Within 24 hours, the body is cremated. Infants, however, are not cremated, for fear that the mother will become barren. Burial in rock crevices or in caves was also common before missionaries visited the tribe.
Thus, the Havasupai practice shamanism, have their own form of medicine, have funeral processes, and overall are quite superstitious with their belief in spirits and sky people. Rain is vital to their culture, therefore it has its place in their religious practices as well. With the Southwest being so dry, it is no wonder they have cultural traditions surrounding rain. In later times, when the tribe was converted to Christianity by missionaries, upon the urging of the Bureau of Indian affairs, the Havasupai began burying their dead. Despite the conversion to a foreign religion, the tribe never stopped “keeping the song,” even after death.
Today this is a community east of Grand Canyon National Park.
5,411 foot elevation summit located in the western part of Grand Canyon National Park.
Located in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park about 20 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village.
Smithson, Carma Lee, and Robert C. Euler. Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. University of Utah Press, 1994.
Welcome! I am ready to present to you my historical evidence and findings from my research. For my first blog post on my historical research, I have chosen to start with ancient peoples of the American Southwest. I wanted to use this as a starting point before I delve more into the history of the Havasupai tribe.
According to Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest by Stephen Plog, the first humans to enter the Southwest encountered a very different environment than the one we know today. The Southwest includes the modern day states of New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California, Nevada, and Colorado. These first humans entered North America when ice sheets still covered much of the Northern hemisphere at the end of the last ice age. Sea levels were lower, resulting in a land bridge that connected modern-day Alaska and Asia. Scientists estimate that these people came to this new land around 10,000 B.C.E., because archaeological sites have been found in Alaska dating to this time period. By 9,500 B.C.E. widespread human occupation of North America is evident. Some sites show, however, that humans began arriving on this continent even earlier; in New Mexico, for instance, sites such as Hermit Cave and Pendejo Cave date between 33,000 and 15,000 B.C.E. These people were early hunters and gatherers and they would have been surrounded by now-extinct megafauna and many different types of plants such as pinyon pines, sagebrush, and spruce trees. These megafauna included ancient North American horses, giant armadillos, mastodons, mammoths, short-faced bears, dire wolves, the North American cheetah, the ground sloth, giant beavers, and even camels.
Before the Havasupai arrived, the Colorado Plateau had already been occupied for several thousand years. Archaeologists have dubbed these people simply as the “Desert Culture.”1 These ancient peoples of the Desert Culture were the ancestors of indigenous cultures that would form later, such as the Anasazi, the Cohonina, and eventually the Havasupai. About 2,300 years ago the Pueblo people, or Anasazi as they are called today by the Hopi and Navajo, made pottery, wove cloth on looms, and built semi-excavated pit houses in this area east of the Grand Canyon. By 200 C.E., at the end of the Archaic period,2 these early people had already become less mobile and moved less often from place to place in search of food. The development of villages marks a major change in human life, because when these people became settled, they began to farm. The Anasazi planted their fields along drainages where flood water would reach them. They hunted a wide range of plants and animals as well. Along with farming, the Anasazi made beautiful pottery. Their pottery is marked with geometric patterns and were red or white. They produced their paints by boiling plants for such colors. These key aspects contributed to Desert Culture.
As these people settled down, dwellings began to appear in the Southwest in the form of pit-houses. These were subterranean rooms with floors excavated to about 4-6 feet below the surface. They had wooden beams for support and often a ladder was placed through a hole in the roof. The Anasazi primarily occupied these pit-houses during winter, because underground they could remain warm from a fire. They also used these structures to store food, as the lack of air limited bacteria and insects from spoiling it. Beans, corn, and squash played a vital role in the health and nutrition of the Anasazi and could easily be stored in clay pots and jars. Religion played a role as well. A kiva is what an underground structure is called when it is used for religious purposes. Groups of 10-25 people lived in each village, on average for about 10-20 years. They also buried their dead in a specific position, with the deceased’s knees drawn up to the chest in a shallow grave. Today, remnants of these grand villages can be found such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, Navajo National Monument, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
About 500 C.E., the Anasazi began to migrate and appear in the Grand Canyon area. They eventually settled to the east of the Grand Canyon, close to the modern day state of Colorado and the Four Corners Region.3 Their pit houses faded and they started building more elaborate structures and communities. Around 700 C.E., a mysterious group of people also appeared on the plateaus south of the Colorado River. Their artifacts are very similar to the ancestral Pueblo, but whether they are a part of this group or another remains unclear. Archaeologists refer to this group of people as the Cohonina. Although the Havasupai are not directly descended from the Cohonina, they are important to mention because they were heavily influenced by the neighboring Anasazi and because they most likely occupied Havasu Canyon4 first where the Havasupai live seasonally to this day.
The next few centuries that the Cohonina inhabited this area were prosperous. They were lucky enough to live through a period of agricultural stability as the climate was ideal, unlike today. Warmer weather with more rain provided great conditions for farming. The Cohonina built permanent settlements using stone, even incorporating some kivas. They made plain brown pottery that sometimes featured red ochre as well. This red ochre was traded with the Anasazi. The location of the red-ochre deposits are kept secret by the Havasupai. Today, this red-ochre is still traded with the Hopi. By 1,100 C.E., the Cohonina had spread their settlement from west Havasu Canyon to Desert View5 in the east.
A century later, life began to change and take a turn for the worse for the Cohonina. The summer rains that fed their great agricultural harvests began to decline and their conditions worsened. This forced the Cohonina to search for springs and creeks at lower elevations. Around this time may have been when they established their first seasonal settlement at the bottom of Havasu Canyon. As the drought persisted, construction on the Colorado Plateau6 died down, and after the 1000s, their archaeological sites and evidence virtually disappeared.
As the Cohonina began to fade from the Grand Canyon, another group of people emerged by the 1300s when the drought conditions in the area improved. They were a Yuman-speaking group7 from the lower Colorado that archaeologists call the Cerbat.8 This group spoke the Hokan9 language, which is the language that the Havasupai still speak today. The Havasupai are believed to be directly descended from this group of people. These newcomers built temporary settlements in the form of brush shelters, similarly to the ones the Havasupai continued to build into the 20th century. Their pottery was plain, similar to the earlier Cohonina, but fired in an oxidation process. The Havasupai ancestry can be traced to the Cerbat easily, but nailing down a connection with the Cohonina is more difficult. Much of the area the Havasupai inhabits today is scattered with untouched and priceless archaeological sites. These uninvestigated archaeological sites in Grand Canyon National Park could hold the answer to whether the Cohonina and Havasupai are related or not. At least two of these sites are right within the Havasupai’s village.
There is evidence, however, that contact occurred between the Pueblo-like Cohonina and the Cerbat. This is because of a Yuman-style sweat lodge10 that is at a Cohonina site north of modern day Seligman, Arizona. There is also a burial site east of Havasu Canyon that shows 800 years of ceramic deposits that include both cultures. Evidence like this likely suggests that there was contact between the two groups. Havasupai stories recount a time where they occupied Havasu Canyon with a different group of people other than themselves.
The Havasupai also tell of a time where they encountered scatterings of people in Coconino Wash11 who called themselves the Juwiiba. These people lived in the area between Havasu Canyon and Grand Canyon Village12 where the Cohonina once flourished. The Havasupai relate them to the Anasazi, because they lived below the canyon rim and made split-twig figurines. The tribe says that they could communicate with the Juwiiba, because the Juwiiba were like them but had split off a long time ago. It is possible that the Juwiiba are just a myth, but if it were to be a historical account, this would be a revolutionary encounter. If the Havasupai did, in fact, meet with remnants of the Cohonina people, this could distinguish the Havasupai from other Yumans.
As for the Havasupai, their arrival in the Grand Canyon traditionally tells of a great northeastern migration that began from Blythe, California, on the Colorado River. Their journey went northeast, passing through modern-day Kingman, Arizona. They stayed close along the Colorado River until they could not anymore and began to tackle the canyon. They stopped in Matwidita Canyon, which is north of modern-day Peach Springs, Arizona, but when a dispute broke out among the groups that had settled there, these groups dispersed to new homes. One of these groups were the Havasupai, who left Matwidita Canyon and continued their journey towards the sunrise until they came upon Havasu Creek. Here they remained for many generations, together with other people, as legend tells it. A part of this group decided to take their chances elsewhere and elected to continue their migration east. This party was said to be led by a man named Hung Mata. When the group departed, they were never seen again. Present-day Havasupai are not shocked to know that people as distant as the Tonkawa in Texas speak languages related to their own. They say this explains what came of Hung Mata’s group who went east. It wouldn’t be until the 16th century that the Havasupai encountered another group of people, who would be entirely different and rather white and strange looking.
Ancient cultures centered in the Great Basin area of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Approximately from 8,000-2,000 B.C.E.
Region of the Southwestern United States that consists of the southwestern corner of Colorado, the southeastern corner of Utah, the northeastern corner of Arizona, and the northwestern corner of New Mexico.
Located today on the Havasupai Reservation.
Scenic drive/road located near the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Refers to the desert region within the Four Corners.
Native American groups that lived in the lower Colorado River valley, parts of California, and Mexico.
Native American word meaning bighorn sheep.
Grouping of language families in California and Arizona.
Heated dome structure used in religious ceremonies and for good health.
River on the Havasupai Reservation.
Located in the South Rim area of Grand Canyon National Park.
Hirst, Stephen. I Am the Grand Canyon: the Story of the Havasupai People. Grand Canyon Association, 2006.
Plog, Stephen, and Amy Elizabeth Grey. Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest. Thames & Hudson, 2008.
I would like to wish you all a warm welcome back to my blog! I have spent the last couple of months intensely researching and preparing for my senior project. I had to settle on one of the travel stops specifically for the project, because if I had chosen to write about the history of every single place we went, my topic would have been too broad. After I finish my senior project however, in my own time, I will probably write up some short blog posts on the other stops we had on the road trip.
So, I have decided on the Grand Canyon for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when I visited, I was quite literally swept off my feet and mesmerized by its sheer size and staggering beauty. I remember standing at the edge, my breath taken from my chest, as I marveled at how the canyon seemed to go on for miles and miles. My legs shook a little, as my fear of heights and gravity reminded me how small I really am on this planet. Secondly, I chose to focus on the Grand Canyon for my senior project because of its rich history and culture. The Havasupai tribe has been living within the canyon for 700 or more years. Before that, other Native American cultures were thriving in the area too. Many other tribes name the Grand Canyon as their birthplace, or place of emergence, such as the Navajo and the Hopi. It is truly a magnificent and magical place. Going back even further in time, the Grand Canyon is estimated to be 5.5 million years old. The Grand Canyon is almost like a book. It had recorded its very long natural history within its many stacked layers. You can feel how sacred it is when you are there.
For my senior project, I am required to write eight blog posts that include my history major and my literary studies emphasis for my English major. To make sure I meet all of these requirements, and include both areas of study, I have assembled a list of posts. I will be doing one book review, a post on a Havasupai story, two posts on Havasupai religion and legends, a post on ancient Pueblo peoples, two posts on how the National Park System (NPS) has affected the Havasupai and other tribes, and another post on colonialism. There are certain requirements of my blog posts as well. I will be including footnotes and writing it in Chicago style. I will update you guys with any other plans for the project when and if they come up. I expect these blog posts to be rolling out in the next couple of weeks. Be on the look out for them! Thank you for sticking with me on this journey. I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve learned about the Grand Canyon and the Havasupai!