July 13, 2012

Havasupai Tribe of the Havasupai Reservation


The Havasupai Tribe of the Havasupai Reservation is a federally recognized American Indian tribe who has lived in the Grand Canyon for at least the past 800 years. 

Official Tribal Name:  Havasupai Tribe of the Havasupai Reservation

Address:  Havasupai Tribe, P. O. Box 10, Supai, Arizona 86435
Phone:  928 448 2731
Fax: 928 448 2731

Official Website: 

Recognition Status:  Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

 Havasupai – People of the blue-green water

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Havasupai

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Misspellings:

With the Hualapai, from whom they may be descended, they are also called the Pai (Pa’a) Indians (“the People”; Hualapai are Western Pai, and Havasupai are Eastern Pai). With the Hualapai and the Yavapai, the Havasupai are also referred to as Upland Yumans, in contrast to River Yumans such as the Mojave and Quechan.

Name in other languages:

Region:  Southwest

State(s) Today: Arizona

Traditional Territory:

Beaver Falls in the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation
Beaver Falls in the Havasupai reservation in the Grand Canyon
Photo By Gonzo fan2007 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Havasupais have dwelt in the Grand Canyon and the rest of north-central Arizona for over 1,000 years.

Confederacy: Yuman


Reservation: Havasupai Reservation

The Havasupai Reservation was established from 1880 to 1882, near Supai, Arizona, along the Colorado River, 3,000 feet below the rim of the Grand Canyon. It was substantially enlarged in 1975, when the tribe regained a portion (185,000 acres) of their ancestral homeland along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

Land Area:  188,077 acres of canyon land and broken plateaus abutting the western edge of the Grand Canyon’s south rim, with year-to-year permits issued for grazing in Grand Canyon National Park and the adjacent National Forest. 
Tribal Headquarters:  Supai, Arizona
Time Zone:  Mountain

Population at Contact: Of roughly 2,000 Pai, perhaps 250 Havasupai Indians lived at Cataract Canyon in the seventeenth century.

Registered Population Today: Approximately 400 lived there in 1990. 

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


The Havasupai Tribal Government consists of 87 employees made up of Havasupai Tribal members. The Tribal-Member employees operate and manage the Havasupai Tribe programs and enterprises.

Charter:  The tribe adopted a constitution and by-laws in 1939 and a tribal corporate charter in 1946.
Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   The Havasupai Tribe is governed by a seven-member Tribal Council. The executive officers of the Havasupai Tribe is the Chairman and in the absence of the Chairman, the Vice Chairman.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:  


Language Classification:   Yuman–Cochimí -> Pai -> Upland Yuman (aka Northern Yuman) -> Havasupai 

Language Dialects:

Havasupai is a dialect of the Upland Yuman language spoken by fewer than 450 people on the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.As of 2005, Havasupai remained the first language of residents of Supai Village, the tribal government seat.

The Havasupai dialect is nearly identical to the dialect of the Hualapai, although the two groups are socially and politically distinct (Kendall 1983:5). It is a little more distantly related to the Yavapai dialects.

Number of fluent Speakers: It is the only Native American language in the United States spoken by 100% of its indigenous population. 


Origins: The Havasupai probably descended from the prehistoric Cohoninas, a branch of the Hakataya culture. Thirteen bands of Pai originally hunted, farmed, and gathered in northwest Arizona along the Colorado River. By historic times, the Pai were divided into three subtribes: the Middle Mountain People; the Plateau People (including the Blue Water People, also called Cataract Canyon Band, who were ancestors of the Havasupai); and the Yavapai Fighters. 

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes: Hualapai Indian Tribe of the Hualapai Indian Reservation

Traditional Allies: Traditional allies included the Hualapai and Hopi.

Traditional Enemies: This peaceful people needed no war chiefs or societies. In the rare cases of defensive fighting, the most competent available leader took charge. Enemies included the Yavapai and Western Apache. 

Ceremonies / Dances: Only girls went through a formal puberty ritual. 

People continue to celebrate the traditional fall “peach festival,” although the time has been changed to accommodate the boarding school schedule. People continue to celebrate the traditional fall “peach festival,” although the time has been changed to accommodate the boarding school schedule.

Modern Day Events & Tourism: Pack trips into the bottom of the Grand Canyon on mules and helicopter flights into the canyon provide the bulk of today’s economy for the Havasupai people. They also have a campground, hostel, and restaurant in the canyon.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts: Baskets, created by women, were especially well made. They were used as burden baskets, seed beaters and parching trays, pitch-coated water bottles, and cradle hoods. Brown and unpainted pottery was first dried in the sun, then baked in hot coals. 

Animals:  With the possible exception of Francisco Garces, in 1776, few if any Spanish or other outsiders disturbed them into the 1800s. Spanish influences did reach them, however, primarily in the form of horses, cloth, and fruit trees through trading partners such as the Hopi in the 1600s.

Clothing: Buckskin, worked by men, was the main clothing material. Women wore a two-part dress, with a yucca-fiber or textile belt around the waist, and trimmed with hoof tinklers. In the nineteenth century they began wearing ornamental shawls. Moccasins, when worn, were made with a high upper wrapped around the calf. Men wore shirts, loincloths, leggings, headbands, and high-ankle moccasins. 

Adornment: Both sexes painted and tattooed their faces. Personal decoration consisted of necklaces and earrings of Pueblo and Navajo shell and silver.

Housing: In winter and summer, dwellings consisted of domed or conical wikiups of thatch and dirt over a pole frame. People also lived in rock shelters. Small domed lodges were used as sweat houses and clubhouses. 


The Havasupai tribe  practice summertime irrigated farming in the canyons and wintertime hunting in the plateaus.

In Cataract Canyon the people grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and tobacco. During the winter they lived on the surrounding plateau and ate game such as mountain lion and other cats, deer, antelope, mountain sheep, fowl, and rabbits, which were killed in communal hunting drives.

Wild foods included pinon nuts, cactus and yucca fruits, agave hearts, mesquite beans, and wild honey.

Formal authority was located in chiefs, hereditary in theory only, of ten local groups. Their only real power was to advise and persuade. The Havasupai held few councils; most issues were dealt with by men informally in the sweat lodge.

The Havasupai were individualists rather than band or tribe oriented. The family was the main unit of social organization. With some exceptions, work was roughly divided by gender. Babies stayed mainly on basket cradle boards until they were old enough to walk. 

Leisure time was spent in sweat lodges or playing games, including (after 1600 or so) horse racing. The Havasupai often sheltered Hopis in times of drought.

Traditional implements included stone knives, bone tools, bows and arrows, clay pipes for smoking, and nets of yucca fiber. The Havasupai tilled their soil with sticks. Baskets and pottery were used for a number of purposes. Grinding was accomplished by means of a flat rock and rotary mortars.

The Havasupai often traded with the Hopi and other allied tribes, exchanging deerskins, baskets, salt, lima beans, and red hematite paint for food, pottery, and cloth. They also traded with tribes as far away as the Pacific Ocean.

Economy Today: Tourism constitutes the most important economic activity. The tribe offers mule guides, a campground, a hostel, a restaurant, and a lodge, and they sell baskets and other crafts. Farming has almost entirely disappeared. The tribe owns a significant cattle herd. Some people work for wages at Grand Canyon Village or in federal or tribal jobs. Fearing contamination from a new uranium mine, the tribe has banned mining on tribal lands and the people are fighting an ongoing legal battle over uranium pollution of a sacred site in the Kaibab National Forest. 

Life among the Havasupai remains a mixture of the old and the new. Unlike many Indian tribes, their reservation includes part of their ancestral land.

Some people never leave the canyon; many venture out no more than several times a year. The nearest provisions are 100 miles away. Many still ride horses exclusively, although they may be listening to a portable music player at the time. Havasupai people often mix with tourists who wind up in the village at the end of the Grand Canyon’s Hualapai Trail. Some people own satellite dishes and video cassette recorders, but much remains of the old patterns, and intermarriage beyond the Hualapai remains rare.

Residents live in Supai Village in the 3,000 foot deep Havasu Canyon, near the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Tourism is the main base of their economy today. A favorite destination of tourists are the beautiful Havasu Falls, Navajo Water Fall, and Mooney Falls in Havasu Canyon. There are fees to enter the canyon, which are subject to change without notice before arrival.

Havasu Canyon is a fragile environment and is subject to flash floods that can rise with little warning. Some areas in the canyon are off limits to visitors due to continuing repair work or unstable ground conditions. Immediate closure of the canyon is possible at any given time during your visit.

Lodging and camping facilities are available. There is a Trading Post and a café with limited service. Visitors can hike, swim, ride horses, or fly by helicopter the last 8 miles into the canyon where the Havasupai Indians live. They have the last US Mail mule train in the country. Many tribal members work for the tribe in the tourist industry, and local artists sell arts and crafts to the tourists.

The tribe owns and manages the 24-room Havasupai Lodge, Havasupai Café, Havasupai Trading Post and General Store, and Havasupai Tourism, which manages and operates tourism related activities including guided and unguided tours, a 200-person campground near Havasu Falls and a horse packing business in which tribal members serve as guides and provide saddle and pack horses that carry goods and visitors in and out of the canyon. Advance reservations are recommended.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs: The Havasupai performed at least three traditional ceremonies a year, the largest coming in the fall at harvest time and including music, dancing, and speechmaking. They often invited Hopi, Hualapai, and Navajo neighbors to share in these celebrations.

Although the Hopi influenced the Havasupai in many ways, such as the use of masked dancers, the rich Hopi ceremonialism did not generally become part of Havasupai life. Curing was accomplished by means of shamans, who acquired their power from dreams. The Havasupai accepted the Ghost Dance in 1891. 

Variants of traditional religion remain alive, while at the same time Rastafarianism is also popular, especially among young men.

Burial Customs: One important ceremony was cremation (burial from the late nineteenth century) and mourning of the dead, who were greatly feared.

Wedding Customs: In place of a formal marriage ceremony, a man simply took up residence with a woman’s family. The couple moved into their own home after they had a child. Women owned no property.

Education and Media: Students attend school on the reservation through the eighth grade, then move to boarding school in California or to regular public schools. Most children entering the tribal school (self-administered since 1975) speak only Pai. Unlike many tribes that focus on relearning tribal identity, Havasupai children are encouraged to learn more about the outside world. 


Famous Yuman Chiefs and Leaders

Catastrophic Events: Severe epidemics in the early twentieth century reduced their population to just over 100.

Tribe History:

The Blue Water People were comfortable in an extreme range of elevations. They gathered desert plants from along the Colorado River at 1,800 feet and hunted on the upper slopes of the San Francisco peaks, their center of the world, at 12,000 feet.

In the early 1800s, a trail was forged from the Rio Grande to California that led directly through Pai country. By around 1850, with invasions and treaty violations increasing, the Pai occasionally reacted with violence. When mines opened in their territory in 1863, they perceived the threat and readied for war. Unfortunately for them, the Hualapai War (1865-1869) came just as the Civil War ended. After their military defeat by the United States, some Pai served as army scouts against their old enemies, the Yavapai and the Tonto Apache.

Although the Hualapai were to suffer deportation, the United States paid little attention to the Havasupai, who returned to their isolated homes. At this point the two tribes became increasingly distinct. Despite their remote location, Anglo encroachment eventually affected even the Havasupai, and an 1880 executive order established their reservation along Havasu Creek.

The final designation in 1882 included just 518 acres within the canyon; the Havasupai also lost their traditional upland hunting and gathering grounds (some people continued to use the plateau in winter but were forced off in 1934, when the National Park Service destroyed their homes).

The Havasupai intensified farming on their little remaining land and began a wide-scale cultivation of peaches. In 1912 they purchased cattle. Severe epidemics in the early twentieth century reduced their population to just over 100. At the same time the Bureau of Indian Affairs, initially slow to move into the canyon, proceeded with a program of rapid acculturation.

By the 1930s, Havasupai economic independence had given way to a reliance on limited wage labor. Traditional political power declined as well, despite the creation in 1939 of a tribal council.

Feeling confined in the canyon, the Havasupai stepped up their fight for permanent grazing rights on the plateau. The 1950s were a grim time for the people, with no employment and little tourism.

Conflict over land led to deep familial divisions, which in turn resulted in serious cultural loss. Food prices at the local store were half again as high as those in neighboring towns. In the 1960s, however, an infusion of federal funds provided employment in tribal programs as well as modern utilities.

Still, croplands continued to shrink, as more and more land was devoted to the upkeep of pack animals for the tourists, the tribe’s limited but main source of income. In 1975, after an intensive lobbying effort, the government restored 185,000 acres of land to the Havasupai.

In the News:

Further Reading:

Exploring Havasupai: A Guide to the Heart of the Grand Canyon

People of the Blue Water : A Record of the Life Among the Walapai and Havasupai Indians

The Sacred Oral Tradition of the Havasupai: As Retold by Elders and Headmen Manakaja and Sinyella 1918-1921  

US Tribes H to J
About nativelady

Leave a Reply