Friends of the Havasupai have often castigated whitefolk,-- their actions, aggression, and agencies-- for first banishing them to a small plot in a side canyon of the Grand Canyon, and then thwarting them for almost a century in regaining possession of only a small fraction of the land they used to occupy that runs from the Hualapai lands past Moenkopi and over toward the Hopi villages, as well as from the Canyon down south to the great east-west corridor that famed US 66 ran through.
In prospect, however, if not in fact, the Havasupai story, left to itself without whitefolk intervention and "protection", might well have been an even sadder episode of the XXth century. Consider:
Near-contemporaneously with the arrival and explorations of the Spaniards from the south, and their establishment along the Rio Grande, the Dine' -- the name "Navajo", "Navaho" is in much wider use-- were moving into the American southwest -- northern New Mexico, eastern Arizona, and lands bordering these areas. Early adopters of the ungulates, the Navajo were mobile and aggressive, riding their horses and bringing their sheep from the 1500's on such that by the 1700's, they were well-established near and surrounding the Hopi villages, coming up against the "Grand Canyon front".
They crossed the Colorado at Lees Ferry, and maybe below, moving into Southern Paiute lands, where they hunted, and with the Utes, took captives for sale to the Spaniards as slaves. Their permanence in the area did not last, pushed back perhaps by a combination of whitefolk ranchers and Forest rangers. It is interesting that in the 1970's, the Navajo stimulated a discussion over their desire for land west of the Colorado in House Rock, though it too went nowhere.
Farther south, they moved themselves and their flocks westward all along the Canyon, including climbing the Coconino Rim up into the forested lands of the South Rim. They had, in the 1800's and early 1900's, moved forcefully enough to have acquired lands formerly in the National Forest there, right up and even into what became the National Park, gaining a piece formerly in the Park in 1930, indeed right up to the Colorado/Little Colorado line itself.
The more southerly advance was recognized by the Indian Claims Commission when it consolidated the cases where the Havasupai and Navajo claims overlapped, i.e., east along a line north from the San Francisco Peaks n.w. through Slate Mtn along the west rim of the Coconino Basin up to Grand Canyon Village. Here's a rough map, with ICC-recognized Havasupai area outlined in orange, and the western line of the Navajo counter-claim in magenta dots:
In its findings of fact, the ICC rejected the Navajo claim, and settled on a line that was basically that of the Navajo Reservation as it existed then and now. This rejection, of course, had nothing to do with the reality question of whether there were Navajo, with their horses and herds, throughout the Coconino Basin and even west of it. The ICC wrote,"During the latter part of the 19th century increasing numbers of the Navajo moved westward into areas traditionally used and occupied by the Havasupai." (20 ICC 210, p 232). This movement was exemplified by the families living near Cameron who sent a statement for the 1973 Senate hearings on the GCNP enlargement. These individuals claimed that though they no longer lived inside the Park, they used the area for grazing, piñon nuts, and religious purposes. So here were Navajo in 1973 talking of their having been moving into the area a century before. What if there had been no national reserves that moved them back?
The only issue for the ICC was that the land was not part of Navajo exclusively occupied aboriginal land. We might say, rather, it was on their agenda.
In short, there is a sound case that the Navajo were pushing west all along the Grand Canon front certainly from the 1800's on, and most likely earlier. Whether this was a friendly, lets live together, spread, or whether Navajo occupation and use was and would have squeezed out the Havasupai is worth debating. What is settled is that the agent that stopped the Navajo advance was the implementation of the whitefolk legal-political system.
Now suppose that there had been no whitefolk in the Southwest. No Mormons moving down across House Rock and the Colorado and up the Little Colorado; no railroad plans; no massive introduction of cattle and sheep grazing by Spaniards and Anglos to the Canyon's south, what would have interfered with the Navajo moving ever westward? Had there been no 1880's Havasupai reservation, what would have fortified Havasu Canyon against Navajo incursions, had the latter wished? Or against the surrounding of the Havasupai refuge by herds of Navajo sheep, instead of U.S. land agencies and the vast ranch holdings and developments of the Babbitts and the VVV Boquillas empire? If the Navajo spread continued, when would the Havasupai, and then perhaps even the Hualapai, have resisted? Or would all have been peaceful co-existence? Or a long-term stand-off similar to the XXth-cenury Hopi-Navajo dispute? Without, that is to say, the whitefolk-erected bastion of settlements, National Forest and Park, legally enforceable boundaries, rangers and sheriffs, would the Havasupai even had had a homeland in 1975, or would they have been so many grains, scattered before the mighty wind of Navajo expansion?