There will be no surprise that in Grand Canyon affairs, political weight is derived, in part, from our 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. So it is with the Havasupai in their century-long striving to gain sovereignty (to use the whitefolk term) over some of the lands that they used and lived on from “time immemorial” into the XXth century.Havasupai narratives deal 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 River (to the west on the map below, where it heads south) 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 perhaps of Yuman-speaking bands that migrate from along the lower Colorado, to constitute the Hualapai and Havasupai.
A story with several episodes has a more general migration traced back tens of millennia, with later arrivals from the 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 arounnd 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.
Each narrative joins the never-ending debate over human global spread, and was offered during the now-resolved struggle for repatriation (of Havasupai land). Writing about these narratives here is not an attempt to write history; they come into political prominence after the mid-XXth century. However, since they offer descriptions of Havasupai relationship to Grand Canyon lands before the 1880’s, they provide an essential setting for the repatriation effort, trailheads from which to start exploring the documented history.
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 Diné(Navajo) were still east of the Hopi. The Diné(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 Diné(Navajo)--, 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.
The following map shows, somewhat roughly, some key elements in this discussion. The green line encloses a version of the lands the Havasupai used and occupied during the centuries before whitefolk pressures of the XIXth century. On the west were bands of the Hualapai. On the east, the Navajo were applying pressures of their own.
The several green arrows suggest some of the proposed migration routes that brought the Havasupai to Havasu-Cataract Canyon, shown in blue. Two significant places in the century-long debate over repatriation are Indian Gardens & Pasture Wash. The reservation established by the 1975 Enlargement Act is the gray area pointed out in red.
Human occupation of the Grand Canyon began some millennia before the Havasupai. 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 four 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 (4-5000 ybp? – 1000 ybp?) become the Hopi, the various bands of the Pai? When the Paiute on the north, Hualapai on the south, Havasupai easternmost) show up, is it all migration or was it a development from existing settlers, or a mixture? How related are the H-Pai--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? As part of a larger bands or self-defined as distinct? Without property boundaries, what did territory and ancestry mean? Was there ownership or community of springs, winter & other seasonal housing, growing, foraging & hunting areas? Would there have been a sense of ancestors, pre-cursors, those who had lived here and 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, would have been, the movement patterns for migration, hunting, trade? Would the Grand Canyon Pai have told oral histories or myths about other peoples?
Humans spread. So, to what degree was the notion of settlement indigenous and necessary to these very mobile (Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in a few centuries, and again & again, and back and forth) groups of humans, coming from Asia (at least), moving on as humans, the traveling primates, did, will 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 Pai were, even as whites showed up, being intruded upon by the Navajo, a people used to migrating (though they settled, too). Were there in the vicinity of the Canyon, 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, (today more than ever, if with less adventure and uncertainty.) 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. Our gene pool seems more acquisitional than 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? In the largest context the Havasupai’s different origin stories contribute 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 (before the Indian Claims Commission, a later post), Euler and Dobyns made their case for the Hualapai and Havasupai as a single Yuman-speaking grouping, composed then, one supposes, as now of several bands. In ICC testimony, Euler specifies 1150-1300 a.d. 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 or drift away from unpleasantness to the northwest, or even just around the lower Colorado?
Schwartz argued the Havasupai story of continuity from Cohonina into Havasupai, and offered a description of population & cultural patterns. Service, reporting on current land tenure matters, suggests speculations are not out of order. In his view, 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. Should we therefore posit that the Havasupai did not understand any of the ramifications of whitefolk property establishment, including the idea of a reservation? Could they have thought it was a matter of continuing discussion? As they continued to use the plateau lands, were they only expressing physically their idea of land tenure, either in dispute with or in concert with whitefolk ideas?
Euler and Dobyns, writing of the 1600 to mid-1800’s, describe an intensified trade with Spaniards, with some deterioration in handicrafts. All mention the Garces’ report of Spanish goods in 1776, cattle & trades goods. Clashes between (Huala)pai & travelers did not apparently involve the Havasupai. Perhaps they were farther enough to the north to feel undisturbed at first. The explorers (Beale, e.g.) certainly trekked more south along the great transport route now containing our various roads. Or the Havasupai might have been in the canyons. Perhaps they were just a more pacific, less irritable, band. On the other hand, could a bunch of whitefolk intruders tell the difference? Perhaps the relative documentary silence on the Havasupai is not surprising.
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. He lists deer and other meat targets, pinyon, beans & corn as constituting 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, lets ask if it is 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? Australians? Age-old peasant life patterns? 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? Certainly there were no "primitive hominid" societies left; these peoples were all us. 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 word-spinning about the place of the Canyon in Havasupai lives? How can we not engage in the activity, not necessarily only guilt-ridden, of putting together pieces to make the picture of that moment when the whitefolk pattern of political activity, of conquest and dividing up began to be imposed.
No question but that whitefolk disrupted whatever the Havasupai pattern of movement or settlement was. The Europeans (the great migrator/conqueror/imposer of the XVth-XIXth centuries) brought the ideas that laid upon the land the lines, including the need to lay claim on a basis of long-established use. As time passed, these claims & reservations became targets for whites to aim at. This happened very swiftly with the Havasupai.
Their experience did differ from that of the Hualapai, who were pushed and reacted, ending in the Hualapai War of the 1870's. The peacefulness of the Havasupai could have been a matter of distance, disguise, or even policy based on news. What did the Havasupai know about the Hualapai fighting, and when did they know it? What did it do to their ideas and behavior? Conversely, what formed the ideas whitefolk had of the Havasupai, given the scantiness of the explorers' record?
Then in the 1870’s, the troubles started. Miners came into Havasu; above, drivers were directing great herds of grass-chomping animals. The Havasupai were up on the 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? The unanswered question is this: 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, something has to be said about the same army officers making two different dispositions for similar folk.
Hirst, Stephen, Life in a Narrow Place, The Havasupai of the Grand Canyon, 1976
I am the Grand Canyon; the Story of the Havasupai People, 2007
Digests of exhibits for Havasupai and USA before ICC, n.d., 1950's
Dobyns & Euler, “A Brief History of the NorthEastern Pai”
Schwartz, Douglas, W. , “Havasupai 600 AD – 1955 AD, A short cultural history”
Service, Elman, 1947, “Recent Observations on Hav Land Tenure” in SWAnthropology, 3-4-360