Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sat, Sept. 19

Grand Canyon Association to help tribes access culturally significant sites in Canyon

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Grand Canyon Association is launching a fundraising campaign to help support tribal members traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon to connect with culturally significant places in the park where their ancestors lived.

"Other than our occasional tribal river consultation trips, we don't have many other opportunities to help the members of the traditionally associated tribes get into the canyon beyond the north and south rims," said Janet Cohen, tribal program manager for Grand Canyon National Park. "Those trips were mostly consultation visits or were specifically preservation visits."

The fundraising campaign stemmed from that idea. GCA is involved because it is the nonprofit fundraising partner for Grand Canyon National Park.

Cohen wants to focus on intergenerational trips - a parent with their kids, or with elders someplace in the canyon, which includes more than just river trips.

"Just opportunities for the Havasupai to get to Indian Garden, opportunities for the Paiutes to get to places on the north rim that are particularly important to them and opportunities for people to maybe be on river trips in an intergenerational capacity," Cohen said.

She said that it is important for the program to know where tribal members would like to visit, how they would like to visit and who should go on the trips.

"More tribally directed versus Park Service or association directed," Cohen said, adding that tribal members on their own visit some sites inside the canyon where private ceremonies and pilgrimages are held.

"I think there are lots of those places," Cohen said. "People who are young enough or fit enough do that via hiking. [Traditionally] that would have been the only way [for them to visit]."

Five tribes, with money provided by the Bureau of Reclamation, put on river trips with cultural resource staff, elders and religious people, where they visit sites to monitor them. But that is just one trip per year with a very specific purpose.

"That's a small group of people that gets to do that," Cohen said. "But, we're trying to target people who maybe don't have that opportunity and to get to some of the more difficult places."

Helen Ranney, associate director of philanthropy at the Grand Canyon Association, said that some of the elders are not physically capable of getting into the canyon on their own without flying in. The trips would provide access to culturally important areas for those people.

"Some of them can't, they just physically can't," Ranney said. "If we don't give them that opportunity to reconnect with this place before they leave this earth then we've lost something really important."

Cohen said "reconnect" might not be the right word to use since tribes in the area have never lost their connection to the Grand Canyon.

"They've never lost the religious, spiritual, cultural connection," she said. "It exists at Zuni with people who have never been to the canyon. But we want to help perpetuate it. It is so important, the retention of language and culture for the tribes who believe they emerged here, it is so integral to their being that providing an opportunity for people who haven't been in awhile or for youth who have never had the important to all of us."

Ranney said because National Park Service budgets have been cut, private philanthropy to support the park is important. Equally important is the chance to preserve a prehistoric history of the canyon from the people who lived there.

"This is a way to keep those (historical) connections to the Grand Canyon," she said. "If the elders don't keep the kids connected and don't preserve these stories, we may lose some of that."

Two GCA board members have adopted the fundraising project and will oversee it.

"This is a priority project for us for this year and next year to raise the necessary funds," Ranney said.

The goal is $35,000. But Ranney said if more money is raised that will increase Cohen's ability to have more tribal members go on the trips.

Tribal members said the trips will help them connect with their heritage.

Charley Bulletts, a member of the Kaibab band of Paiute Indians, pointed to the significance of Deer Creek inside Grand Canyon. He said Deer Creek creates the same emotion for his people as a war veteran approaching the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

"It is a spot of reverence," he said. "Tribal youth are taught that when you die, your spirit goes to Deer Creek. You don't fully understand it 'til you see it.'

More information is available at

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