Learning Firsthand the Interconnectedness of Native Culture to the Land from the Hualapai Tribe in the Grand Canyon

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate to take a vacation to the great American Southwest. A day spent at Grand Canyon West in Arizona was the highlight of the trip. We both agreed that the beauty of the canyon is unparalleled, but I didn’t realize how long Native Americans from the Hualapai Tribe (pronounced WALL-uh-pie) have called this unique area of the Southwest home, with its deep gorges, canyon lands, rugged mesas, and ponderosa pine forests.

Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus and his wife at Grand Canyon West in Arizona.

I was hosted by the Hualapai Tribe, known as the “People of the Tall Pines,” whose homelands once covered an area from the Grand Canyon in northwest Arizona to the Bill Williams River in west-central Arizona and from the Black Mountains bordering the Colorado River to the San Francisco Peaks. Today, the Hualapai Reservation is nearly 1 million acres. Until 1988, the Hualapai’s tribal lands were not open to visitors; however, in order to secure economic stability and independence, the Hualapai have shared their lands of spectacular beauty with millions of people from around the world.

Challenging aspects of increased tourism are waste generation and increased water usage. Many of the tourists visiting the area leave trash and other waste behind, creating a problem for the tribe. With the assistance of the Department of Defense’s C130 cargo aircraft, the tribe removed waste from the canyon floor. The Tribe’s Natural Resources Department is a leader among tribal communities for their work in water conservation and ensuring water quality.

During my vacation I experienced one unforgettable day with the Hualapai when native dancers performed ancient dances in the shadow of the canyon as I imagine they have for centuries. The visit solidified my commitment to the importance of our longstanding partnership with tribal environmental programs to protect ecosystems where natural landscape and native culture are interwoven and equally irreplaceable as the Grand Canyon is to the Hualapai tribe.

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