There can be no surprise that in Grand Canyon affairs, political weight is partially derived from narratives of how long we have been here, where we came from, who was first, who we are related to. Origin-stories, creation-myths, are potent psychological knowledge easily transformable into fierce political weapons, whether rooted in millennia-old passed-on-then-fossilized oral narratives, the hanging sign claiming “serving our community since 2003!!”, or even concocted to suit imperatives of the moment.
In their century-long striving to gain sovereignty over some of the lands that they used and lived on from “time immemorial” into the late XIXth century, Havasupai narratives dealt with multiple origin-stories. Hirst mentions Havasupai agreement with the Hopi in thinking of humans originating from a canyon south of the Grand Canyon. He speaks, too, of Havasupai tradition recounting migration northeast from the Colorado into the Grand Canyon area, spending time in Matawidita, then moving on into Havasu Canyon, as well as reaching Indian Gardens in the early XIXth century. That tradition is echoed in one of the archeological narratives, a migration of Yuman-speaking bands that moved from along the lower Colorado, to constitute the Hualapai and Havasupai. Still another story, with several episodes, has a more general migration traced back tens of millennia, with later arrivals from the far north animating a journey down California, then into southern Arizona to become the Hohokam. Some of the latter were affected by expansion out of Mexico to move into central Arizona and above the Mogollon rim. These people, the Cohonina, disappeared from their settlement area around 1300, a time of drought, moving north into the better watered places below the Grand Canyon’s rim, evolving more or less seamlessly into the Havasupai.
While each narrative joins the never-ending debate over human global spread, they came alive in the mid-XXth century by providing settings for the repatriation effort, trailheads from which to start exploring how to reach the goal of an appropriate Havasupai sovereignty. In one political sense, they do not matter now since no debate any longer exists about Havasupai extent as of the mid-XIXth century. Various whitefolk expeditions of the time remarked on Havasupai presence in places like Coconino Basin and Moenkopi Wash, when the Navajo were still east of the Hopi. The Navajo’s continued expansion apparently made the Havasupai unwelcome in the area east of the San Francisco mountains. Even with that much of a dynamic, there is no apparent argument with the idea that the Havasupai lived on a vast swath of land south of the Canyon, mingling with Hualapai bands on the west (National Canyon), the Hopi on the east (Moenkopi Wash)—more recently the Dine’--, and south toward the Mogollon Rim where they bumped into or against the Yavapai. However they arrived there, they were the primary settlers and occupiers of southeastern Grand Canyon lands in the second millennium.
Human occupation of the Grand Canyon began some millennia ago. There is the split-twig evidence, then from much more recent occupation, sites show up for farming, storage, and living at spots along the river, trails and storage places along them, and up above. Rock art from across the centuries is abundant; it has long been a trafficked place. One can thus populate the Grand Canyon and its environs with fluctuating populations over 4 and more millennia, asking where they came from and what happened to them? Did they die off in place, move on to other areas? Were the lands north and south of the Canyon ever left with little or even no population? Did these earlier peoples (5000 to 1000 years before the present) become the Hopi, the various bands of the Pai?
When Paiute on the north, Hualapai south, Havasupai easternmost, show up, is it all migration or was it a development from existing settlers, or a mixture? How related are the latter two--contention, co-existence, cousinage in various bands? The Paiutes of the Canyon’s northern plateaus came south across the Colorado River; the Hualapai crossed back. Some Havasupai lived among some Hualapai--was that as part of a larger band or self-defined as distinct? Without whitefolk-type property boundaries, what did territory and ancestry mean? Was there ownership or community of springs, winter & other seasonal housing, areas for growing, foraging & hunting? Would there have been a sense of ancestors, pre-cursors, those who lived here and have gone? In the original migrations from the northwest, what sort of information, communication, sharing of culture, isolation/connection, was there? What is the role of the great number of different languages in explaining origins and longevity in place? And supposing whitefolk never came into America; what were and what would have become, the movement patterns for migration, hunting, and trade?
Humans spread. So, to what degree was the notion of settlement indigenous and necessary to these very mobile groups of humans, coming from Asia (at least), moving on as humans, the trekking primates, do? Did contact with others mean conquest? Or something with little violence? Did the Canyon (other natural features, too, of course) influence any of the choices they made? Could it have been conceptualized, or was it landscape to be used and traversed as any other? The Grand Canyon hunters and gatherers were, even as whites showed up, being intruded upon by the Navajo, a people used to migrating (though they settled, too). In the vicinity of the Canyon, were there several periods of migration, of testing for territory, buffer country, & limits (can we even call them boundaries?), of checking for the means of living (springs & winter sites), and then a period of more stable, settled patterns? We know that even the great rock houses were not necessarily “built for the ages”. Do we humans explore, bump about, settle, then use trade/conflict as substitutes for migration? We do not migrate only because of need; we like to move, to wander. The Havasupai and Hualapai, after all, are human just like the rest of us, and the history of (homo sapiens) humans is to move, spread, either physically or by information/artifacts. We seem at least as acquisitional as territorial. In some fashion, the Havasupai migrated to their current region. Did they then respond to the desire to settle and establish? Given enough time and changing circumstances, would they have moved again, or dug in, as in fact they have done over the past 130 years? The Havasupai’s different origin stories contribute in the largest context to the great debate about human nature: the balance of migration-spread and settlement, restlessness and permanence.
The details, too, fascinate. Testifying as Havasupai allies (as expert archeological witnesses before the Indian Claims Commission, which has to be dealt with in another place), R. Euler and H. Dobyns made their case for the Hualapai and Havasupai as a single Yuman-speaking grouping, composed of several bands. In ICC testimony, Euler specifies 1150-1300 for their time of arrival in what became their homelands south of the Canyon, with little voluntary change since, reservation establishment being a hugely distorted contraction of those lands. What sort of arrival was it? A family-by-family wandering; a concerted rush away from unpleasantness to the northwest; a drift off from just around the lower Colorado? The archeologist D. Schwartz argued once for the Havasupai story of continuity from the Cohonina, and offered a description of population & cultural patterns. And still another, E. Service, reporting on current land tenure matters, suggests ownership is fluid and part of the social argument structure. Everybody can get into the discussion. Land went to newlyweds and lineage was not stressed. Pressures over use & need lead toward rough distribution that avoids concentrated ownership. Yet there certainly were, and are, fixed abodes. Does this mean that the Havasupai, represented by Ko-hot', did not understand the ramifications of whitefolk property establishment, including the idea of a reservation? Could they have thought it was a matter of continuing discussion? As I suggested earlier, in analogy with Knack's ideas about the Paiute, did they see it all as a matter of mutual accommodation? As they continued to use the plateau lands, were they only expressing physically their idea of land occupation as a matter of continuing debate rather than an establishment of rigid fence lines?
Certainly, by the 1870’s the Havasupai way of life was long established. There were springs and garden sites, e.g. Havasu, Pasture Wash, Indian Gardens. Hirst says places on the plateau with dwellings used from one year to next were recognized as belonging to a family or person; the deer and other meat targets, pinyon, beans & corn constituted a good diet. The plateau was a cold-weather source for wood (heat, cooking, shelter), food & water; trade, socializing, marriage; maybe even the view. And the history of this way of life seems not greatly different from the Hualapai & Paiute: hunters & gatherers, wanderers, settling down, picking up gardening.
If this is the accepted view, is it all necessarily accurate? Why wouldn’t there have been changes, evolution? Trade and travel, visitation and extra-band marriage existed. What are the analogues to Havasupai life in other parts of the world? What do we mean by change, rate-of-change, here? How often was something new invented, discovered, traded for, learned? We are inescapably arrogant about all this, no matter what we conclude. Perhaps without more evidence, we are left speculating about what is a “mature” American Southwest hunting and gathering society? Was there a variable pattern of sophistication about what could be utilized and how? Information lost and gained? And again, can we offer anything but spinning about the place of the Canyon in Havasupai lives? What do we get when we try to put together pieces to make the picture of that moment when the whitefolk pattern of political activity, of conquest and dividing up, began?
No question but that whitefolk disrupted whatever the Havasupai pattern of movement or settlement was. From the east they came with the ideas that laid upon the land the lines, including the need to lay claim on a basis of long-established use. Then in the 1870’s, the real troubles started. Miners came into the canyon; above, drivers and drovers were directing great herds of grass-chomping animals. The Havasupai were up on plateau in the colder season; surely whitefolk had seen them there. The army was a major governing presence; again, what did they know, and why didn’t they act on it? Why were Hualapai and Havasupai treated differently in the matter of reservation establishment? Dobyns and Euler carry this to the point of saying it was the whitefolk treatment of the westernmost Pai band that caused the separate identity of the Havasupai to be permanently established. Whether this is a comfortable conclusion to adopt, given the army’s influence at the time, we are left with the mystery of the miniscule reservation and the century-long struggle of the Havasupai to repatriate their land.