Since my first visit in 1997, the Grand Canyon has been a very special place to me. I believe everyone should experience it in person. Yet, in a strange paradox, as visitors increasingly frequent the area my ability to find solitude and meditative hikes will be adversely impacted.
At the beginning of August I had the opportunity to raft the Colorado River and thereafter hike to the land of the Havasupai. The Havasupai are reported to have existed within and around the Grand Canyon for over eight centuries. Although living primarily above and inside the harsh terrain of the Grand Canyon, the tribe’s reservation has some of the most lush vegetation and beautiful waters found anywhere in the world. Despite the threat of flash floods during August, it was my goal to see these waters and the falls found in the area following work at Grand Canyon University. Experiencing the Havasupai, which means “the-people-of-the-blue-green-waters,” resulted in a much different experience than I expected. After an eight mile hike, the village of Supai is encountered before any of the falls.
The unpleasantness of Supai village and its inhabitants made the continuation of my journey to the falls more pressing but also caused me to seriously reflect on what happens when a dominant culture destroys a minority group’s culture. Although the United States is replete with many examples of Native American oppression, the Havasupai provide a case study. Although it is easy to judge Supai as one of the dirtiest, most unfriendly places I ever experienced because I did not find the Havasupai to be shy but overtly distant. The simple reality however is the destruction of the Havasupai’s culture is largely to blame on why my destination did not end up being a visit to a utopian society.
As an eco-tourist, the pollution and unfriendliness I experienced was absolutely a turn-off. However, as a life-long learner the reality caused me to seek out the truth of the situation. Following the return of a large share of their land in 1976, the Havasupai have once again begun to flourish. Although many of the day-to-day customs that existed prior to 1882 are no longer exhibited, many of the Havasupai seek to respect and preserve the traditions of their ancestors. The tribe currently consists of 639 members. The tribe has begun to take advantage of the beauty of its land by turning it into a tourist destination for visitors to the Grand Canyon. By paying a relatively large sum visitors are able to experience the wonders of the blue-green-waters and their surroundings. Tribe members often work as packers and/or workers for tourist ventures, or work at the lodge, tourist offices, the café, etc.
As noted, the Havasupai are a case study on why the United States educational system needs to continue promoting multiculturalism. The draconian mantra “to the victor go the spoils” results in everyone being losers. Americans are enriched by accepting our mistakes, making amends, and respecting others’ beliefs and values whenever we are in another culture’s village. Supai isn’t a utopia but why should these people hold outside visitors in high regard? While the surrounding nature is absolutely spectacular, the history of American treatment toward the Havasupai people is as disgusting as is the amount of pollution seen throughout Supai. Yet, for me to be overtly offended by the native’s lack of courtesy toward a tourist would simply reinforce the Havasupai’s lack of trust and level of animosity.
How can education help? Well, should you ever visit the region, my suggestion is to humbly thank every Havasupai native for allowing you access to some of the most beautiful waterfalls on Earth. Picking up empty water bottles along your hike may also exhibit the time is now for changing the culture of pollution that is exacerbated by both hikers and natives alike.
Lastly, teach tolerance. Respect for diverse cultures will create a stronger society. A stronger society demands an educated people. As a result, educated, well-informed people then promote continuation of a world-class educational system and a trust-worthy government.