Sunday, September 27, 2009

a visionary Hualapai's proposal

Dobyns and Euler, archeologists and Hualapai advocates --they deserve a discussion all their own-- open their 1975 book on the Hualapai (Walapai)* by marking and lamenting the centenary of the Hualapai's forced entry into the U. S. economy as laborers. This fits my own impression gathered from archives, that the Hualapai see their reservation, only a piece of their original territory, as a place on which to base a viable economy. If the story of the Havasupai asks, in part, what would their lives and society have been like had the government established an appropriate reservation in 1882, the Hualapai story asks, in part, what happens to a people when they try to use a reservation as an enabler for them to abide in their ancestral lands.

A major part of that story, told in detail and with passion by C. W. McMillen in Making Indian Law, concerns the Hualapai fight to get full ownership and control over the land itself. The rest, of how the they worked to establish a supportive economy, has several sub-parts --including the national struggle over authorizing dams in the Grand Canyon. Here, I want to present a remarkable little jewel I came across in the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) files at Truxton Canyon. It concerns Fred Mahone, the hero of McMillen's history, and has a tiny coda.

By 1934, the New Deal had come to the BIA. For the Hualapai, this was going to mean a reversal for the forces that were trying to claim ownership of half the reservation for the Santa Fe Railroad. Nevertheless, the struggle had been mean and dirty enough that it was a remarkable act of optimism when Fred Mahone--veteran, sometime leader, provocateur-- developed a far-sighted plan to move away from cattle raising-- to which the BIA had a near-religious commitment as the solution for "the Indians' problems".

Hoover Dam was very new; Lake Mead still filling; recreational facilities nowhere near complete. Yet Mahone wrote up, with illustrations and a map, a set of ideas to provide a revenue stream from tourism. The Bureau of Reclamation had looked at the area and found only that no usable land would be reached by the reservoir. Its sole concern was that no damage would be done by the rising waters. With more foresight, Mahone set forth a “Desert Playground in the Ancient Old Indian Country”. He proposed a toll road down Peach Springs canyon to reach Lake Mead--decades later there was one. He saw that power boats could then provide access to the reservoir. For visitors, and revenue, there would be gas stations, cabins, horse trips, and even villages near the Peach Springs and Diamond Creek. Another road could run out over the plateau to the Canyon rim above Diamond Creek. A third would lead to Mudwhitica, the canyon containing the Hualapai ancestral home, and still another to “our cousins” the Havasupai --that one too took decades. Tourists would hear tales told by the old scouts, and could buy baskets and beadwork. They would be invited to watch tribal ceremonies. Mahone’s conclusion about his proposal: “We can become self-supporting.”

McMillen found that a photographer named Miller helped Mahone, suggesting parts of the plan and taking photos of places and people, in part to help document the case against the Santa Fe. The two were inspired by the National Park and the railroad's Indian Detours operation. McMillen says Mahone presented the plan to a meeting of the Hualapi, and they were split. As well, the BIA sneered, calling Mahone ambitious and overzealous, and a failure as a leader. The roads would cost $100,000! They would only be used by sightseers! None of this would help the grazing business.

The coda, to the same tune: Sixty years later, it was still hard for tourism to get traction. In 1996, Hualapai Monroe Beecher, referring to the clause in the 1975 GCNP Enlargement Act that authorizes NPS to help agencies outside the Park, suggested getting Interior assistance to build a tribal museum. He argued that few have enjoyed views of the western Canyon, and a Hualapai viewpoint could relieve congestion at Grand Canyon Village, as well as make  opportunities for the Hualapai.  Neither the tribal council nor its principal economic booster, tribal attorney Royal Marks, took up the idea.

Fred Mahone  was not all-seeing. He did not propose the helicopters and the Skywalk that now dominate Hualapai tourist operations. Yet, had his now modest-seeming ideas been put in place then--another federal anti-Depression project--, the post World War II years would very likely have seen such an operation move toward fruition. Seventy-five years later, perhaps he is dancing, instead of spinning, in his grave.

*The 'Walapai' spelling was usual before the mid-twentieth century.

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