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Indigenous Voices of the Colorado Plateau


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Introduction & Origin

Known as the Havasu ’Baaja, meaning "people of the blue-green waters," the Havasupai occupy Havasu Canyon, located in the western reaches of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Many tribal members live in Supai Village in Havasu canyon, well-known for its beautiful blue-green waterfalls.

Supai Village sits at the bottom of the 3000-foot deep Havasu Canyon and is the tribal government seat. The Havasupai have lived in this region for more than 1000 years and the Havasupai language is still their first language. The Havasupai Reservation was founded in June 1880 and was originally confined to a small area in the populated part of Havasu Canyon, formerly known as Cataract Canyon. In 1975 the Havasupai Reservation's area was expanded and now totals 188,077 acres. The tribe has about 503 members, according to current U.S. census records. This Reservation is located at the end of Indian Route 18, 68 miles north of old Route 66, in northwestern Arizona.

Historically the Havasupai occupied the same region around the Havasu Canyon area that they inhabit at present. There are references to tribes such as Coconinos, Cosninos, and Coninas in the ancient Spanish records. These were the corrupted versions of the names that the Hopi assigned to the Havasupai. According to Robert Emerick, affiliated with the University Museum in Philadelphia, the legends of the Havasupai can be traced to 800 A.D. Padre Francisco Tomas Garces, a Franciscan friar, was the first person to document the Havasupai in his diary when he met them on June 20, 1776. The Hualapai led him to Havasu, known as Cataract Canyon, where he met the Havasupai whom he claimed were very friendly and hospitable.

From the initial contact in 1776, the Havasupai began to have increaded contact with the Spanish. Anglo-Americans began to explore the American Southwest in the 1830s. Following the American Civil War the Havasupai began to experience the full impact of this American colonization. The federal government's land and mining policies enabled the consequent mining activities which proved to be a menace for the Havasupai. In addition, the government's lack of concern regarding native lands led to the seizure of land by cattlemen, forcing the Havasupai off the high plateau and causing them to retreat to their farm lands within Havasu Canyon. The Havasupai Reservation was finally established by the United States Government in June 1880 and was confined to a small area within Havasu Canyon.

The Havasupai and the Hualapai. Flagstaff, Arizona: Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff, 1940:pp.5.

Havasupai Tribe


Past daily life

In the summer, the Havasupai tribe inhabited the western side canyons of the Grand Canyon including Havasu Canyon. In the winter they climbed to the high plateau of the western Grand Canyon, where they built temporary camps among the Pinyon and Juniper groves.

Historically, agricultural and farming activities mainly took place during the spring and summer. Hunting and food gathering were carried out in the fall and winter. The whole family participated in the cultivation and irrigation of their agricultural fields. Occasionally, families would go up on the plateau to visit their friends and to hunt. Periodic inspections of the agricultural fields were carried out by the Havasupai. In times of drought the people began to construct shelters and later houses alongside the fields in order to protect their crops from the insects and pests of the region, as well protect their fields from neighboring Yavapai tribe, who raided the fields for food The round-roofed houses of the Havasupai were constructed using thatch, willow brush, and straight brush. During the nights, people used mattresses to sleep on, and they slept with their heads facing the eastern direction in order to avoid bad dreams. During summer, the Havasupai cooked outside their homes. All the family members ate their meals together. Women and children ate with the men, except when male guests visited.

The Havasupai and the Hualapai. Flagstaff, Arizona: Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff, 1940: pp. 9-10.
"Havasupais," The University Museum Bulletin, Vol.18, No: 3, Sept.1954, pp. 40. {Robert C. Euler Manuscript Collection (MS 343). Folder 484, Series 2, Box 25, 1980}.
Whiting, A.F. Eds. Weber, Steven & Seaman, David P. Havasupai Habitat: A.F. Whiting's Ethnography of a Traditional Indian Culture. Tucson, Arizona: the University of Arizona Press, 1985: pp. 9-10.


Society and customs

Havasupai basketry uses two techniques -- twining and coiling. Baskets were significant to the Havasupai because they served as daily household items. These baskets were usually made of acacia. The task of making baskets fell to the Havasupai women. The coiled trays and bowls of the Havasupai are well-known in native American arts for their fine craftsmanship.

In historic times, the Havasupai wore buckskins during winter. In the summer, men dressed in shirts, moccasins, breechclouts, headbands, and leggings. Women either wore a short under-apron or a dress made of a blanket, two aprons (a long one and a short one), and moccasins. Women usually went barefoot and used their moccasins only while working in the fields or during long journeys. On the contrary, men always wore moccasins. After contact with western society their were increasing pressure to adopt white practices, the Havasupai men began to wear overalls, and hats, and Havasupai women began to wear long, full-skirted dresses.

The Havasupai and the Hualapai. Flagstaff, Arizona: Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff, 1940: pp. 11-12.
The Havasupai Indian Agency, Arizona. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs. Lawrence, Kansas: Haskell Printing Department, 1929: pp. 8 & 16.
Spier, Leslie. Havasupai Ethnography. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XXIX, Part III. New York: The American Museum of Natural History, 1928: p. 183.

Havasupai Tribe


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