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Havasupai tribe: Native American Indian, guardians of the Grand Canyon

Havasupai tribe: Native American Indian, guardians of the Grand Canyon. Matthew Putesoy, Native American chief of the Havasupai tribe, shows us the Havasupai Indian reservation in Havasu Canyon, Supai Arizona – the sacred spring waters of the Havasu Creek and turquoise Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls.

Hello, my name is Matthew Putesoy. My last name means man with the large-brimmed hat or – it could have two meanings – rifle.

This is Supai, Arizona. I was born and raised here. I’ve been living here for 42 years. The havasupai people have always lived here, originating from the Grand Canyon many thousands of years ago. They came up from the centre of the Earth a long time ago. In the bible stories there was a great flood. Our stories are similar to the bible. We live through the three worlds – one world we originated from, which is the centre of the Earth. A long time ago, the people came up from the ground and this place of origin as well call it is in the confluence of the Grand Canyon. Where the canyon meets the Colorado river. We’ve been living here for many thousands of years. When we first originated from the centre of the Earth, there were four races of man. From the centre of the Earth, these are the four sacred colours – red, white, yellow and black. Once they came out of the ground, the red people stayed here, the yellow people, the white people and the black people went their separate ways. So now we say that towards the end of the world, the end of creation, the four races of man will unite again. This is the story – the prophecy – that’s been told by our people. That’s our origin story.

We’ve lived here in the Grand Canyon for many years. The place of our aboriginal homeland is 10-15 miles from the Grand Canyon national park. This is a place of origin for our people. This is where we’ve been living for thousands of years. It’s a very sacred place for us, our people. When people came from across the sea to take over this land, the continent, they moved us from our aboriginal homeland to this land we now are standing in, Havasu Canyon. We’ve been isolated here for many years, hundreds of years now since the people who came across the sea, the ocean, divided and conquered the people, this continent. The original inhabitants were misplaced from our home. Our home is the Grand Canyon originally. The National Park Service and the Forest Service are now making these boundaries so we cannot go back home to our land anymore. So now this is our permanent home in the Grand Canyon. It’s also told that at the end of man’s evolution, we will one day return home to our aboriginal homelands. They were our lands before. This is why the councils are looking into expanding and moving out of the canyon here. We’re starting to develop our homes up at Grand Canyon national park. It’s called Supai Camp, it’s where we were living before we were moved down here. We’re start to expand up on the plateau lands, where we could have more room, where our people are growing, and starting to move out of the canyon to live on top of the plateau. It has been prophesized that one day the Supai Kachina will leave the Supai Canyon and come up onto the top of the world and tell the people about all of the bad things that have been happening on Mother Earth. Pollution and global warming. Things like that will be told by a member of our tribe. This is not going to be a normal person, it’s a Supai Kachina. He can have many blessings with him, like a medicine person. He can go out of the canyon and warn the people of the coming of the end of the world. We call this land Havasupai in English, Havasu Baaja, means people of the Blue-Green Waters. We take care of this land, we take care of this canyon. The sacred spring waters that were created from the land also sustains us, and the animals, the birds, the plants that are in the canyon. These are all sacred elements that make up us as a human being, and we call this canyon our home. We continue to live here, thrive here, as long as we keep our sacred covenant, our sacred songs, our sacred dances. Our sacred ways of planting the corn, the squash, the watermelon. These things have sustained us through the dark ages. As long as we keep our covenant that we continue the old ways, like we have for thousands of years. We thank the Creator every day for allowing us to live here, to be able to live under the title “Guardians of the Grand Canyon”. It’s very sacred for our people. We need to continue teaching the children who we are and what we are, and the messages that are brought forth from our teachers, our elders. We need to continue educating other people. Other nations that come here to visit us. To take care of the land, take care of the water. These things are sacred. These things that allow us to live and continue living.

The Havasupai population is 670 tribal members. Elderly, children, men and women. Around 450 live here in the canyon alone. The other 25% are living outside of the canyon. The way we live here is through some economic development and the jobs they provide, with projects like trail renovations. Our main source of revenue is tourism, with our waterfalls, canyon lands and hiking and horseback riding. These are the things we get our revenue from. Tribal members rent out their homes and their horses. The tribe runs the tourism office and we have a 24 room lodge that can be rented to tourists. There are also camp grounds – we can camp 200-300 people every weekend.

This is the main part of the village – this is the village square. The road you see coming down there is the main trail. We call that Supai Main Street. As you see we have no traffic, we have no traffic lights. There are no cars down here, only horses. Sometimes people fly in on helicopters – behind me where we took the interview is the landing pad. It takes people in and out of the canyon to go shopping and do other things. This is where most of our food is brought in on horseback. Adjacent to that is the US Post Office, mule train mail. This is one of the last places in the United States that still delivers mail on horses – mules.

We have the cafeteria. They serve anything from fried bread to Indian tacos, and they have basic foods too, like beans, hamburgers, French fries. Sometimes even beef burritos are sold here. Coffee, orange juice and water. Things like that you can find in the café.

To our right we have the Supai clinic. People who are sick or ailing can come here and get some medication or in extreme emergencies they can call the helicopter and they can air-vac people out of the canyon.

Right down the street here we have the Havasupai elementary school. It starts from K through to eighth grade. A lot of our children go to school here, there are probably about 90 students that go to school here from first grade to eighth grade. Once they graduate from eighth grade they go up to boarding schools up on the rim. Some students go to Flandreau – South Dakota, some to Chemawa Salem – Oregon, some to Anadarko – Oklahoma, and some down to Sherman Riverside – California.

We have a tractor that’s operated and run by a solid waste programme. Once these bins get filled up, the tractor comes to pull it back out to the landfill where we have trash baggers that bag up the trash and the tribe also has contracted trash packers who pack our trash on a weekly basis. That’s how most of the trash is taken out of the canyon. Our more solid waste things, bigger items like refrigerators, hot water heaters and other large items like that are usually flown out in bulk by Air West who own the helicopter. They can contract with them to fly out the white goods. Part of the tribe’s business is we meet and discuss things that affect our community with tribal leaders. Right there are our tribal offices, where we have seven council members who oversee the tribe’s best interests. The tribe members elect our officials through a general election. That’s how we select our leaders. The seven-member council takes seat here. The tribe also elects the Chair and the Vice, who are the top leaders of the tribe. A long time ago they were known as Chief and Little Chief, but now since the adoption of the IRA – the Indian Reorganization Act – it’s now a seven-member council who oversee the best interests of the tribe.

Right here is the Supai Bible Church. People go to church here on Sundays, and sometimes evening worship. We have a pastor who is a tribe member. I think this was built back in the early 1900s by some missionaries. This land here is leased to them by a tribal member to continue the bible studies.

We’re here in Havasu Canyon. One of the oldest man-made irrigation systems is here. The irrigation system we have is over 500 years old. It’s been used to help the garden and water our crops – our watermelon, squash – and this is part of the covenant that we keep with the Creator. It’s a promise that we made that we would continue to plant our corn, water our crops and continue to live here and sustain ourselves. That’s what the irrigation system here is for. It’s maintained every year – the men go out and clean out the system and get it started so that people in the community can plant their corn. That’s how we continue to sustain ourselves here in the canyon. You can see on the left we have some cornfields and fruit trees that are planted here. Some of the trees that you see are apricot trees, peach trees, fig trees, pear trees, pomegranates. The ground is very fertile and we can plant a great variety of foods.

Now we’re ready to go around to the waterfalls, to have a look at some of the falls that are down here in Havasu Canyon. These are waters from the springs that we have. The water flows down into the canyon and there are Fifty Foot Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls. We’ll go and see those falls today.

Ok, we’re down here at the first waterfall. It used to be one of the favourite swimming holes of the people here because of the deep turquoise pools that are here, for the people and tourists who would come here to swim. There used to be 50 foot where the water drops off and there used to be a nice big pool and a rope swing. But in 2006, there was a serious flood that hit the village, and that took most of the pools away, out through here, and knocked off the main stream bed. The main stream bed goes right over there and drops off at Navajo Falls. But the flood hit and it created this new channel through here. These first falls are called Fifty Foot Falls.

The new falls were created by the flood in 2006. The falls here are fairly new, from about two years ago. After the flood, after it washed out the main channel to Navajo Falls, it created this new channel and created the new waterfalls. In English it’s called “Rock Falls”. This is a temporary name. The tribal members are getting ready to give these falls a permanent name, so it’ll be on the map. It’s a combination of both the water and the people. Havasua means blue-green water, and Baaja means the people. So we put that together, Havasupai People in English. But our way, in our language, it’s Havasu Baaja. Some of the songs that were sung in the beginning were heard from the waters, and the waters sung to the people. That’s how they heard songs and that’s how they started singing. These are songs taught to our people from the water, and were created from the water, were born from the water. From the water, the sun and the Earth. So water is very sacred to our people, because that’s the giver of life for our people. It gave life to us, helped us and sustained us.

Late in the summer in 2006, flood water came down Cataract Canyon, through a series of storms that happened on the 15-16 of July. There was a flood that came in through the canyon – about 15-16 feet high water came through the village. That’s where Navajo Falls used to be until the flood came. It cut that new channel right below Fifty Foot Falls and created the new waterfall along here and it’s now lower, so a lot of people and children like swimming there. At the new falls. That’s where Navajo Falls used to be, right along there.

This canyon is part of the tributary of Cataract Canyon, and it’s known as Havasu Canyon. From here it drops down into this small narrow canyon below here. From here on through the canyon is the campground, which many tourists travel to from all over the world to enjoy the water here. There’s a natural spring that people can drink from. There’s one two hundred yards from here with very good, clear, pure water, and one located here at the bottom of Havasu Creek that you can drink from. This is not processed water. It’s from Mother Earth – the womb of the mother. These are very clear waters that people can drink from.

There are many different species of plants – willow, cottonwood, we have a lot of datura. Wildlife, raccoons, ring-tailed cats, California condors all live here. And big horn sheep come into the canyon and drink the water. You see them sometimes, but sometimes they’re away from any human contact. Big horned sheep are one of our sacred animals. Many eagles and hawks fly in from the mountain ranges, and they do hunting and gathering here in the canyon. Many of our tribal members come here to swim and offer prayers for the water, for it to continue to flow. This is the sacred ritual that we do – it’s part of our culture, our history. To offer prayers to the canyon and the water. We do that through the sweat lodge too, to keep things in balance with the water, the land and the earth, and giving special thanks for life to continue here in the canyon. For the water to continue flowing and the people to continue living and planting. Living off the land, growing crops and continuing to live our traditional lifestyle as we have done for thousands of years.

This is Havasu Falls. This is where our people get their name from – from the colour of the pool. Down here, the water gives off this turquoise blue green colour. That’s from all of the natural elements that have flowed through the sediments. It forms this pool down here at the bottom. There are lime deposits flowing over into the falls and the water. That creates the blue-green look to the water once it reflects the sun. This is Havasu Falls. In our language, we say Havasua. That means blue-green. You can put that together into Havasu Baaja – that means people of the blue-green water. This is where we get our name from – a very special name. Like the other tribes around the region, like the Hopi, the Apache, the Navajo, and Hualapai. This is how they named us the people of the blue-green water. These waters are very sacred to us. We say that once a person dies or passes away, their spirit flows through the water and dives off into the water pool, and the mist that is created by the drop of the water, the plummeting of the water, into the pool, the mist that flows back up is the spirits of our ancestors, and they continue to fall into the water and rise. That’s why these waters are very sacred. And it sings a song while it drops and it flows back up in the mist, and that’s what these waterfalls are for, to continue life. After you’re gone, you’re still here with us, as a spirit. That’s where the water flows through, and the spirits flow through the water and swim back up in the mist. We call these waterfalls “mother of waters”. They have been here for many thousands of years. We’re glad to have you be a part of the water. Once you come down and camp in our campgrounds, or stay in our lodge and you walk on the bottom of the canyon, you’re walking among our ancestors, who’ve been here for thousands of years, and you’re part of the canyon now – now that you’ve walked the sand and the water and the air that you breathe, and the rocks that give off the heat. With all of the elements of life, you’re part of the canyon now. Part of the Grand Canyon. Part of the Havasupai People. Part of the guardians of the Grand Canyon. We hope that these messages that we’re telling you can be heard and be honoured and respected. Because these are what make up our people as part of the canyon, part of the Grand Canyon – as guardians of the Grand Canyon. To protect this sacred canyon from any destruction. Like President Roosevelt said, we should mar at it and not destroy it, and that’s what we’re here to do as keepers and guardians of the canyon. To honour it, respect it, and protect it.

Today we invite you – the people from all over the world, from all over the country – to come and visit us and be a part of this canyon, be a part of the people. I invite you to come and spend some time with us in the canyon. We’re very hospitable people. We invite you to be a part of us.


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Kiss From The World is a unique online magazine packed with videos and photos taken all over the world, extraordinary journeys and one-of-a-kind encounters. Kiss From The World makes you the traveller, taking you to the heart of the action, into the depths of forests, to interviews with hardened gang leaders, into a world of unknown tribes, war zones, exotic parties… But it also takes you on a journey into daily life, and the extraordinary normality of the world.



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