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Stop demoralizing, criticizing and romanticizing the Havasupai Tribe: Supai Village, Arizona - Mountain Matron

Posted on November 5, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Stop demoralizing, criticizing and romanticizing the Havasupai Tribe: Supai Village, Arizona - Mountain Matron

The smallest Native American tribe in Arizona with slightly more than 600 members sits in the ranks for the poorest education in the country, sustaining constant criticism and scrutiny while assembled center of the most romanticized natural formation in the United States. Behind all the beauty lies generations of pain. Beneath the red rock rim the Havasupai Tribe struggle day to day. They struggle to keep their tradition, their culture, their language, their future.

For decades the people of Supai have been desperate to keep the future of their tribe moving in a positive direction. Often reaching out to the federal government for guidance and repeatedly ignored.

Without paved roads beneath the canyon rim the Supai village has restricted accessibility limited to horseback, helicopter or by foot. It’s the only place in the nation that still receives their mail via a mule train. The locals have their school, general store, and tribal offices within steps of one another. The only school in the village has endured decades of opening with extremely limited resources to then having to close for lack of any. Fighting to keep credentialed educators in the classroom the students, parents and tribal future are at a loss.

While millions of visitors will eagerly wait an entire year to receive the required permit to enter the remote portion of the Grand Canyon occupied by the Havasupai Tribe, why can’t the Tribe get anyone to hear their cries for help? How can the most visible village in the nation be invisible to those with the ability to assist? How does the most romanticized location in the U.S. also become the most tyrannized? The isolation of the village seems to make it easy for many to throw abusive language, cruel accusations and demoralizing generalizations at the tribe.

Now imagine that this was happening in your home.

I get defensive and even angry when I hear someone decide they have enough knowledge to place condemning comments about the Tribe, especially, as an entirety. It’s incredibly uneducated, but more so, it’s wrong. It’s no surprise visitors flock the beauty of the canyon, all for their own reasons, many returning time and time again, but before you ever say anything demoralizing about the tribe be sure you, and your grandparents could withstand a century of the same traumatizing indignities with a better outcome. The Tribe’s people are only human with room for error. The Tribe has leaders, just as the U.S. does, and not everyone makes perfect decisions. The Tribe is committed to their cultural ways, as it should be, and fight every day to keep their Tribe’s voice alive, heard, and protected.


I believe those visiting find it easy to condemn the Tribe, I believe many wouldn’t miss them from the canyon. I believe tourists can be selfish, greedy, invasive, and perpetual burdens, but we’re also the Tribe’s only connection to economic contribution and independence. Many don’t understand the facts, and when they do they turn a blind eye. Other’s understand their difficulties, yet dismiss their needs. When will we stop romanticizing the village as our vacation destination and rather start respecting the human lives, culture, and citizens we should be protecting?

As I thumb through the 76,000 photos on Instagram alone, bearing the hashtag Havasupai, I notice the pungent glamorization of humans and the pride they believe they’re entitled to for hiking a mere 10 miles to the canyon floor. I see half naked people flaunting their beauty and all that they love within themselves. I see some amazing creativity in the photos shown, but if you read the captions it’s really hard to find people discussing anything but themselves. You find graffiti from outsiders believing the canyon cares they’ve been there. I see shameless individuals who knowingly signed a responsibility contract restricting alcohol posting pics of hard liquor near the falls. It’s disgusting, shameful and deeply hurtful for tourists to take their own way of life and impose it upon the Tribe. Hundreds upon thousands perpetuating the same indecencies every year.

Before you throw out any comments regarding the Tribe make sure you’re educated on the realities, not your opinions. Make sure you have generations of family below the canyon walls, and most importantly, make sure you’ve lived in their shoes. Otherwise, you’re just a bully, an oppressor and a tyrant. Don’t allow the prosecution of the individuals left in the hands of leaders. Don’t demoralize an entire culture for a few human errors. Find the needs and help where you can. Don’t stand by in idle while millions of people invade a community of a couple hundred and pick apart their livelihood. Don’t be the one who romanticizes the destination, but turns their head to hardships. Don’t be an accuser and abuser. Be an encourager, inspirer, a revitalizer to our Indigenous. Look into your heart, find the kindness, and extend it to those who need it.

I call upon my Outdoorists who have visited to align yourself with the dignity, respect and culture we so deeply enjoy visiting. Find a tribal need within your grasp and work to fill it.

Do not use your privilege to condemn, insult or betray an entire culture and the well being of humans walking the face of this earth. Use it for the betterment.

**We would like to highlight a group of individuals who took that notion and made it a reality. A great group of hikers were visiting during my time in the canyon in 2016. These individuals took the time to post a pic of their good deeds. It was truly a heartwarming post, and entirely too rare a post on social media. These individuals took time out of their lives, their vacation and their short visit in the canyon to leave it better than they found it. If everyone made a single solitary effort to do that, the Tribe would have a far better chance of proper preservation.

Categories: Articles Of Aspiration, Travel

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Reply Lauren
6:58 AM on November 6, 2017 
Such an interesting read. I was only vaguely aware of the tribe (mainly due to the permits required). We do need to make sure as travelers/adventurers that we are respectful of the people and places we visit. Thanks for this point of view.
Reply Rozanne
10:48 AM on November 12, 2017 
Lauren, Thank you! We really appreciate you for taking your time to read our story. :-) If we can help you in any way please don't hesitate to reach out.
~ Rozanne {@} MountainMatron.Com

Lauren says...
Such an interesting read. I was only vaguely aware of the tribe (mainly due to the permits required). We do need to make sure as travelers/adventurers that we are respectful of the people and places we visit. Thanks for this point of view.
Reply Kelsey Spencer
3:59 PM on November 20, 2017 
Thank you for this. I really hope to visit the area one day and plan to try for a permit this year. I'd love to hear about ways to support the Tribe as a thank you for sharing this wonderful area with us.