March 16, 2014

Hualapai Indian Tribe of the Hualapai Indian Reservation


The Hualapai Tribe is a federally recognized Indian Tribe located in northwestern Arizona. “Hualapai” (pronounced Wal-lah-pie) means “People of the Tall Pines.” In 1883, an executive order established the Hualapai reservation.


Hualapai Family
Hualapai Indian people at annual pow wow
 By Laslovarga (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

Official Tribal Name:Hualapai Indian Tribe of the Hualapai Indian Reservation

Address: P.O. Box 179, 941 Hualapai Way, Peach Springs, Arizona 86434
Phone: 928-769-2216 or toll free 1-888-769-2221
Fax: 928-769-2343
Email: Contact Form

Official Website:

Recognition Status:  Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

“Hualapai” (pronounced Wal-lah-pie) means “People of the Tall Pines.”  It refers to the trees pinion nuts come from.

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name: Upper Yuman 

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Misspellings:

Walapai (Xawdlapdiya)

With the Havasupai, they are called the Pai (Pa’a) Indians (“the People” – the Hualapai are the Western Pai, and the Havasupai are the Eastern Pai). They are also described, with the Havasupai and the Yavapai, as Upland Yumans or Upper Yuman, in contrast to the River Yumans, such as the Mojave and Quechan.  

Name in other languages:

Region:  Southwest

State(s) Today: Arizona

Traditional Territory:

The original Hualapai territory covered about 5 million acres, with seasonal migration rounds in the lower Mohave valley areas. Today, Hualapai territory is located along the middle course of the Colorado River in present-day northwestern Arizona. Today, most Hualapai live near Peach Springs, Arizona, which is located near the Grand Canyon. 

Confederacy: Yumen 


Reservation: Hualapai Indian Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

In 1883, an executive order established the Hualapai Reservation. Land Area: The reservation encompasses about one million acres along 108 miles of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. Occupying part of three northern Arizona counties: Coconino, Yavapai, and Mohave , the reservation’s topography varies from rolling grassland, to thick forests, to rugged canyons. Elevations range from 1,500 feet at the Colorado River, to over 7,300 feet at the highest point of the Aubrey Cliffs.

Tribal Headquarters:
Peach Springs, Arizona
Time Zone: Mountain


Population at Contact: Roughly 1,100 prior to contact with non-natives.

Registered Population Today:

The total tribal members are about 2,300 as of the 2000 US Census, with about 1,353 tribal members living on the reservation. Most people who reside on the reservation live in the capitol town of Peach Springs, which owns its name to the peach trees that historically grew at the nearby springs. 

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:

Government: There was little or no tribal identity until the early twentieth century, when the Hualapai created a fledgling tribal council. In the 1930s they adopted a constitution and elected their first tribal president. 

Charter: Act of Congress (43 Stat. 954) on February 20, 1925. The tribe adopted a constitution and by-laws in 1938 and a corporate charter in 1943. 
Name of Governing Body: As a sovereign Indian nation, the Tribe is governed by an executive and judicial branch. The executive branch is composed of a nine-member Tribal Council, which includes a chairperson and vice-chairperson. The Council oversees twelve administrative departments.

The judicial branch of government consists of a Tribal Court and a Court of Appeals. Judges are appointed by the Tribal Council for two-year terms.
Number of Council members: The tribal council consists of nine elected members and one hereditary chief, although the Bureau of Indian Affairs must still approve all ordinances. 

Dates of Constitutional amendments: A new constitution was ratified in 1970.

Number of Executive Officers: 2

Elections: Every 4 years for tribal council and every 2 years for judges.

The Hualapai Tribal Nation is a member tribe of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA),and the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA).

Language Classification: Yuman

Language Dialects:

Each Hualapai band spoke a different dialect.

Number of fluent Speakers: Many Hualapai speak English, but many also retain their native tongue. Most Hualapai who live on the reservation live in individual, modern homes. The shift from extended family to nuclear family living contributed to cultural breakdown. One response to this situation has been the development by Peach Springs Elementary School of a nationally recognized model bilingual/bicultural program. With children grounded in their own culture, their self-esteem has risen, which has translated directly into higher graduation rates.



The Colorado River is revered as a life-giving source, known as “Ha’yiđađa,” the backbone or spine of the river. It is the belief that with-out the spine, Hualapai cannot survive as a people. The long expanse of the River through the canyon and the riparian eco-systems makes a life-way connection that flows through the hearts of the Hualapai people. The Hualapai maintain this connection through ties of sacredness to the Colorado River. Hualapai believe that they were created from the sediment and clay of the River.  

The Pai Indians, who traditionally considered themselves one people, probably descended from the prehistoric Patayans of the ancient Hakataya culture. Thirteen bands of Pai originally ranged in northwest Arizona along the Colorado River, hunting, farming, and gathering. By historic times, three subtribes had been organized: the Middle Mountain People, the Plateau People, and the Yavapai Fighters. Each subtribe was further divided into several bands, which in turn were divided into camps and families.

Traditional political authority was decentralized. Headmen of both a camp (roughly 20 people) and a band (roughly 85-200 people) led by fostering consensus. They served as war chiefs and spokespeople when necessary. The position of headman was occasionally hereditary but more often based on personality and ability.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

There are fourteen Hualapai Bands, each having a distinct dialect and territorial homeland with corresponding kinship ties and social roles.

Related Tribes: Havasupai Tribe of the Havasupai Reservation 

Traditional Allies: Their main ally was the Havasupai. At one time, the Havasupai and the Hualapai were one tribe.

Traditional Enemies: Traditional enemies included the Mojave and the Yavapai. The Hualapai fought with mulberry bows, clubs, and hide shields. 

Ceremonies / Dances: In general, the Hualapai had few ceremonies or dances. They did accept the Ghost Dance in the 1890s.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Hualapai Glass Skywalk over the Grand Canyon
Sky Walk on Hualapai Indian Reservation
Photo By Ericm1022 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This reservation is rich in hunting, fishing, and river rafting opportunities. The tribe sells guided big-game hunting permits for desert bighorn sheep, trophy elk, antelope, and mountain lion. The Hualapai River Runners, the only Indian-owned and operated river rafting company on the Colorado River, offers one and two-day trips.

Another tribal enterprise is Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai reservation at the west rim of the Grand Canyon. Offering an alternative to the Grand Canyon National Park, the enterprise offers tour packages that can include spectacular views from the “Skywalk” (a glass walkway that enables visitors to walk 70 feet beyond the rim of the Grand Canyon at 4,000 feet above the Colorado River with an unobstructed view of the canyon through the glass below your feet), helicopter and boat tours, and other excursions on the reservation.

A summer memorial powwow honors the dead, whose clothes are still burned, but now they are buried rather than cremated.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

The Hualapai people are known for their fine basketry. Baskets and pottery, including pots, dishes, jars, and pipes, have been made for centuries. 

Animals: The Hualapai obtained horses in the seventeenth century.

Clothing: Clothing was generally made from buckskin or juniper bark. Men wore shorts and breechcloths. Women wore skirts or aprons. Both wore moccasins or yucca sandals. Rabbit-skin robes and blankets were used in cold weather. In addition, the Hualapai painted their faces for decoration (women tattooed their chins), and both sexes wore shell necklaces. 

Housing: Dome-shaped brush wikiups as well as rock shelters served as the major dwellings. The people (men, mostly) also used sweat lodges for curing and as clubhouses. 

Today,  most Hualapai who live on the reservation live in individual, modern homes. The shift from extended family to nuclear family living contributed to cultural breakdown.


The region is a rich resource base for hunting, gardening, plant, root, and mineral gathering, amongst geologic formations of river and springs. Native plants include desert tobacco, cane reed, bear grass, various cacti, and edible grass seeds.

Seasonal migrations for hunting and gathering of sustenance resulted in acquiring a variety of foods that extended through different elevations and geographic locations. Spiritual and life skills were conveyed partially during these migration events with Hualapai teaching their children traditional knowledge through hunting and gathering, song and oration, and environmental stewardship.

Prior to European settlement, tribes living along the Colorado River practiced agriculture in the rich alluvial soils that were found in the flood-plain. Because the Colorado River waters seasonally flooded and retreated, Pai were able to make residential moves following seasonal cycles.

Hualapai would build temporary shelters, or ramadas on the flat lands during summer and would then move up into the foothills at the end of a harvest. In addition to domestic crops of corn, beans and squash, other sources included a variety of grasses which were planted in the late spring.

Once the harvest was complete, and weather turning cold, Hualapai would move back up towards the foot-hills and build homes made from pine tree poles and furs. The resources in the Central Highlands offered similar plants to that of the Basin and Range, with the addition of high-protein bearing pine nuts.

There were also abundant food sources that were gathered throughout the lowlands in the Basin and Range Province (southwest Arizona). These sources were gathered during the late spring and early summer and in-cluded mesquite, agave, prickly pear, Saguaro cactus, wild tomato’s, Desert Willow flowers, Cholla buds and many other plants, flowers, roots, berries, nuts, and seeds.

With a broad geographical base available, Hualapai were able to secure diverse food resources which included meats derived from hunting and fishing. Antelope, Big-horn sheep, rabbits, bear, rodents, fish, and a variety of birds provided necessary protein. Larger game could provide a family feast for several days with smaller animals, such as rabbit, being consumed as a “day-to-day meal.” Game was dressed for meats, skins, sinews and a variety of products. They also ate fish.

To hunt, Hualapai men used bows and arrows, nets, fire, and animal drives. Rabbits were captured through animal drives where the rabbits were driven into nets made of milkweed fiber. After the drive, the rabbits were divided among the whole camp.

By following resource seasonal cycles, the Hualapai were able to gather and hunt in the Upper Sonoran Zone (4,500 to 6,500 feet) where grassland, juniper, and pinyon trees edged into the fir forests.

Hualapai lifestyle before the mid-1800’s was one primarily of agriculture, hunting and gathering. The season for planting began in April with harvesting in June and continuing into October. Many types of crops and plants were picked for different types of food processing and storage. Drying food products allowed families to get through the winter months.

Foods were stored in clay jars, and plants not being consumed were processed as medicines, dyes, fodder for animals, baskets and building materials.

Such diversity gave the Hualapai ample trade goods to exchange for items such as the much coveted shells from the Pacific coast.

Trade routes in the southwest tagged into Hualapai routes creating a vast social network for the exchange of goods, services, and people. The Hualapai were part of an extensive system of exchange that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Pueblos. Shell decorations and horses came from the Mojave and the Quechan. Rich red ocher pigment was a key trade item, as were baskets and dried mescal and dressed skins. Meat and skins went for crops; lima beans for Hopi peaches. 

Economy Today:

The Hualapai Reservation is marked by very high unemployment (more than 80 percent). U.S. Interstate 40 bypasses the reservation, limiting opportunities for tourism. However, the new Sky Bridge is giving tourists a reason to step off the beaten path.  The Hualapai plan to develop further what is now small-scale tourism, such as permits and guides, related to the Grand Canyon.

Important economic activities include forestry and raising cattle, along with some hunting and farming. The people sell some baskets to tourists, and they lease land for mining and lumbering. The tribe also controls hydroelectric, natural gas, oil, and uranium resources. Their hope for economic development based on a proposed Bridge Canyon dam was defeated in 1968 by the Central Arizona Project.

Many Hualapai work for wages off the reservation.  Tribal administration, public schools, and state/federal government provide the bulk of current full-time employment. The principal economic activities are tourism, cattle ranching, and arts and crafts.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

According to the Hualapai creation myth, a spirit prayed life into canes cut from along the Colorado River near Spirit Mountain, in present-day Nevada.

An unseen world of gods and demons are in part responsible for the dreams that gave male and female shamans their power to cure. This they accomplished by singing, shaking gourds, and pretending to suck out disease with a tube and herbs. If successful with a cure, shamans were paid in buckskins, but they might be killed if a patient died.

They also used their power to control the weather. 

Wikame is the Sacred Mountain of Creation for Hualapai people. It is along the lower Colorado River and at an altitude of more than 5900 feet.

A sacred spring called Ha’thi-el, meaning “Salty Spring,” flows from a side canyon. There are petroglyphs that tell a story of the world covered with water and depict the creation of the Hualapai people and other Yuman-speaking tribes.

Elements in and around the canyon are filled with significant symbolism, with powers of observation and awareness. Through emergence, survival, subsistence and struggle, the Hualapai have sought to maintain and protect their ancestral homelands since time immemorial.

Today, there are four active Christian churches on the reservation.

Burial Customs: The Hualapai cremated their dead and burned their homes and belongings as well. In the nineteenth century they adopted the Mojave mourning ceremony, in which aspects of warfare were staged to honor the dead.

Wedding Customs: They observed no formal marriage ceremony. Divorce was frequent and easy to obtain. 


Famous Yuman Chiefs and Leaders

Cherum – Hualapai War Chief

Leve Leve – Hualapai Principle chief.

Hualapai Charley – Hualapai Principle chief.

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

Although the Pai encountered non-natives in 1540, or perhaps as late as 1598, neither the Spanish nor the Mexicans developed Hualapai country, which remained fairly isolated until the 1820s. Around that time, a trail was blazed from the Rio Grande to California that led directly through Pai country.

It is thought that the first extended European contact with the Hualapai was made in 1776 by a Spanish missionary named Father Garcés. According to historical accounts, Father Garcés “found the westernmost band of Pai already using Spanish belts, awls, and other implements they had acquired from New Mexico indirectly via Hopi middlemen.”

European and American contact with Hualapai eventually changed social and political dynamics between encroaching settlers, ranchers, and missionaries, but also intertribally.

After the Mexican cession (1848), Hualapais began working in white-owned mines. With Anglo invasions and treaty violations increasing and the mines ever exploitative, the Hualapai, in 1865, met violence with violence. A warrior named Cherum forced a key U.S. retreat but later scouted for his old enemy. Later, the United States selected Hualapai Charley and Leve Leve as principal chiefs because they were amenable to making peace.

The discovery of gold placed Hualapai into an offensive in order to protect their land. Hualapai engaged in guerrilla style warfare tactics between 1866 and 1868 as a form of resistance to the growing influx of ranchers and the United States government.

Hostilities pitted Indians against the United States, and stressed relation-ships among Mojaves and the Hualapai; Yavapai, and Paiutes, to a point where after heavy losses, a peace agreement was signed in 1868 between the U.S. Government and Hualapai.

The Hualapai war ended in 1869.

As the Eastern Pai played a minor role in the war, they were allowed to return home afterward; it was at this juncture that the two “tribes,” Hualapai and Havasupai, became increasingly separate. The army forced those Hualapai who failed to escape to march in 1874 to the Colorado River Reservation. There, the low altitude combined with disease and poor rations brought the Hualapai much suffering and death. When they filtered back home several years later, they found their land in non-native hands. Still, they applied for and received official permission to remain, and a reservation was established for them in 1883.

The reservation consisted of 1 million acres on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a fraction of their original land. Before long, overgrazing by non-Indians had ruined the native food supply, and ranchers and cattlemen were directly threatening the Indians with physical violence.

A series of epidemics struck the Hualapai. Most Hualapai lived off the reservation, scrambling for wage work and sending their children to Anglo schools. As the Hualapai formed an underclass of cheap, unskilled labor, their way of life began to vanish.

The railroad depot at Peach Springs became the primary Hualapai village. The railroad brought dislocation, disease, and some jobs. Their new condition strengthened their differences with the still-isolated Havasupai.

The consequences of military and governmental intervention were devastating for Hualapai. In 1871, through Captain Byrnes, the military established Fort Beale Springs, west of modern-day Kingman.

Here, Hualapai were segregated from the American population that was pouring into the region. Food resources completely disrupted by Anglo farmers and ranchers, caused the Hualapai to became dependent upon army rations. At least 140 Hualapai men joined the Army, becoming scouts and drawing much needed pay-checks.

Many young women were assaulted by the military; older Hualapai died due to hunger and ill-health; many died due to exposure, malnutrition, home sickness and disease. Some fled into the desert making their way into Borrego Springs and California.

Others managed to survive and after a year of incarceration, those who could, went back to their homes only to find their lands occupied by ranchers.

In 1874 life completely changed for Hualapai. The U.S. Army at the instructions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) removed Hualapai “from their homes against their will and sent them south to bake in the desert of the Colorado River lowlands, a place the officer in charge called the “Sahara of the Colorado.” 

Hualapai were forced to march down on a long-walk, or Trail of Tears, to La Paz, near the town of present-day Ehrenberg and live within the confines of a “camp.” Today, Hualapai remember their forced Trail of Tears by completing a relay run eacg year  called the La Paz Run.

The Hualapai began herding cattle in 1914, although their herds were greatly outnumbered by those of non-natives. Extensive prejudice against the Indians diminished somewhat after World War I, out of respect for Indian war heroes. Through the middle twentieth century the Hualapai retained a strong sense of their culture, although economic progress was extremely slow.

In the News:

Further Reading:

US Tribes H to J
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