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peoplebutton.gif (1940 bytes)The Havasupai and the Hualapai

Pai Indians are Yuman speakers who traditionally lived in the lower Colorado River valley and adjacent areas in western Arizona, southern California, northern Baja California, and northwestern Sonora. The upland Yumans, or Pai, inhabited a vast territory along the Colorado River from Grand Canyon to the Bill Williams River in northwestern Arizona.

When Anglos first moved into their territory there were three major Pai subgroups composed of thirteen bands. Each band numbered from 85 to 250 individuals and occupied distinct but overlapping ranges. All these scattered little groups of kin considered themselves a people – The People, Pai – distinct from their linguistic relatives, the Yavapai, who were known as Jiwha’, or The Enemy.

The Pais hunted, farmed at well-watered spots, and gathered wild food over the greatest altitudinal range -- from 1800 to more than 7000 feet above sea level -- of any Indians in the southwestern United States. All believed that their territory had been given to them by Tudjupa, their creator, who said, "Here is the land where you will live. Go to the places where you find water. Mark off your land and live by the water. Name these places."

Havasupai wickiup

Wickiup on the Havasupai Reservation, ca. 1899. Photo NAU.PH.90.14.1 by F. H. Maude courtesy of Cline Library Special Collections, Northern Arizona University.

During the summer months the Havasupai (literally, "people of the blue-green waters") built brush and mud-covered wickiups at the bottom of Havasu Canyon where they irrigated their crops of corn, beans and squash. In the winter they moved into the sun on the plateau above and found shelter in rock alcoves and brush wickiups. Edible wild plants, especially the Agave or century plant, were abundant throughout the territory of the Pais, as were rabbits and other small game. Deer and desert bighorn sheep lived in the many canyons tributary to the south rim of Grand Canyon.

The Havasupai consider themselves the traditional Guardians of Grand Canyon. With the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Park in 1919, the tribe was restricted to a reservation at the southwest corner of the park. At the time it was established, it consisted of only 518 acres, 5 miles wide and 12 miles long in Havasu Canyon.

Havasupai farming

Havasupai Indian farming community at widest part of Havasu Canyon. Photo NAU.PH.  by Bill Belknap, courtesy of Cline Library Special Collections, Northern Arizona University.

Today, the reservation consists of 188,077 acres of plateau country, dissected with deep, scenic canyons characteristic of the Grand Canyon region. Havasu is the most beautiful and lush of these canyons. There are four waterfalls adorned with travertine columns, shelves, and skirts: Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls. Around 12,000 visitors a year hike down to visit the reservation from the Hilltop (top of the canyon) by foot or mule on an eight mile trail. There are less that 700 enrolled members of the tribe living in the village of Supai at the bottom of the canyon.

The Hualapai, literally "people of the tall pines," live on a reservation encompassing a million acres along 108 miles of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Peach Springs, the tribal capital, is 50 miles east of Kingman, Arizona on Historic Route 66, and owes its name to peach trees growing at springs nearby. Occupying part of three northern Arizona counties -- Coconino, Yavapai and Mohave -- the reservation’s topography varies from rolling grassland to forest and the rugged side canyons of Grand Canyon along the Colorado River. Elevations range from 1,500 feet at the Colorado River, to over 7,300 feet at the highest point of the Aubrey Cliffs, which are located on the eastern portion of the reservation.

Like the Havasupai, the Hualapai traditionally moved seasonally between plateau and canyon. They hunted game, gathered seeds and cultivated gardens wherever water was available. Their major wild foods are derived from cactus fruit and from the seeds of various grasses and processed with the use of metates and mano stones.

Today, the Hualapai derive most of their income from Grand Canyon tourism. Hualapai Wildlife Conservation sells big-game hunting permits for desert bighorn sheep, elk, antelope and mountain lion.


Dolan, R., A. Howard, and A. Gallenson. 1974. Man's impact on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. American Scientist 62: 392-401.

Hughes, D. J. 1966. The Story of Man at the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Natural History Association.

Spicer, E. H. 1962. Cycles of Conquest: the Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest 1533-1960. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Sheridan, T. E. 1995. Arizona: A History. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Smithson, C. L., and R. C. Euler. 1994. Havasupai Legends: Religion and mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.