People of the Blue Green Waters
April 17, 2020 11:36 AM   Subscribe

The Havasupai have inhabited the Grand Canyon for their entire history, surviving expropriation when the National Park was created. Continuing to survive means striking a balance with insta-hungry tourists, fending off uranium miners, and finding a way forward as the pandemic waits on the canyon rim.

They are now confined to a former summer village in a side canyon, which is also home to beautiful waterfalls, where they now exist in an uneasy balance with instagram tourism. Park restrictions limit economic activity, meaning the Tribe relies on aesthetic tourism to survive. But the outside world continues to disrupt their national options: the Havasupai now face Trump-sponsored uranium mining that could poison their water supply. Meanwhile, the virus lurks outside the canyon, forcing a tourism closure that threatens the remaining economy. The tribe is seeking donations to repair their budget as they once again prepare to weather a storm not of their own making. So far, no word from Beyonce (seen here in peak late capitalism pastiche doing a sorta-African song for Disney on Havasu land; previously).
posted by SandCounty (3 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this post. I only knew tertiary information about the Havasupai/Havasu falls, ditto the uranium mining which is so, so terribly destructive, and this is helpful in rectifying that. I knew nothing of Beyonce's interactions therein but am zero surprised by the dynamics there to be honest.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:05 PM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you want to learn more about the history of the Havasupai, the book "I Am The Grand Canyon" is a must read.

I've been out there twice. Naturally, I love the area, and the hike from the campground the the confluence of Havasu Creek with the Colorado River is absolutely amazing. When you're out there, though... this is a different type of place for backpacking. The tribe has to strike a balance so that they can preserve the area but still be able to make money - there really is no other way for them to bring in cash from the outside due to just how remote a location the village of Supai is in. To get to the village, it's an 8 mile hike or helicopter ride from Hualapai Hilltop. The Hilltop is an hour and a half drive from the nearest gas pump. The tribe brings in all their supplies either by helicopter or by mule. The waterfalls and campground are another two miles from the village. Given the beauty of the waterfalls, and the accessibility compared to other remote spots, it brings in a different type of hiker, and that's not always good.

When I say accessibility, what I mean is that you get can a helicopter out of there, and in, although that may be such a long wait that it's not worth it, and you can also hire a mule to haul your stuff to the campground. Many people who have little to no experience backpacking - or even camping - book trips out there. The result is people going with overloaded packs - I've seen some doozies out there - and getting themselves in preventable trouble. When people go in with overloaded packs, then what often happens is that they leave supplies and trash at the campground. This is a huge problem, because the tribe does not have an easy time disposing of trash, and it gets expensive. People will hike with too little water, and/or they won't eat enough along the hike, and they'll also hike in the heat of the day in the summer. This leads to predictable consequences. The tribe has little medical capacity. Many hikers don't have any idea at how hard life on a reservation can be and will deride the condition of the houses or the price of the camp reservations or the rules and regulations. The crowd that goes out there stands out to me in stark contrast with the hikers I see at places like at the trails inside GCNP. There's often no water, there's no rides in or out, there's no help with your pack, and as a result you see a different kind of hiker. Someone down on the inner canyon trails at Grand Canyon is typically a lot more prepared, because you're own out there and small mistakes can kill you. Unprepared hikers is something the tribe does their best to help but it's more resources they have to expend.

They're great people. I shudder at the thought of what the virus could do if it got loose in their canyon. They've been battling to keep their homes and their livelihoods for around a century and a half. It would be great if they could stop having to fight these constant battles and just live and go about their business.
posted by azpenguin at 12:49 PM on April 17, 2020 [14 favorites]

Ugh. I had considered the Instagram factor but I was thinking of it such that the 8 mile hike would filter out, not condense, the shall-we-say undesirable aspect of humanity but I completely understand what you are saying. Shit. What a dicotomy to deal with. As an experienced, well no thru hikes but overnights and distances are easy peasy, hiker that would be jarring to say the least, ditto for my native roots being both satiated but also, it seems, pruned or poisoned. Certainly food for thought.
posted by RolandOfEld at 3:21 PM on April 17, 2020

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