Native voices share cultural ties to Little Colorado River
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. —A group of Native voices is kicking off Native American Heritage month with a new multimedia story collection that celebrates the Little Colorado River’s life-giving waters.
“Lifeways of the Little Colorado River” features personal narratives, videos, and audio stories from Indigenous sheepherders, scholars, farmers, musicians, activists, artists, and more.
Contributors include Bernadette Adley-SantaMaria (White Mountain Apache), Lyle Balenquah (Hopi), Dr. Karletta Chief (Navajo), Dr. Herman Cody (Navajo), Jim Enote (Zuni), Radmilla Cody (Navajo), Franklin Martin (Navajo), Ramon Riley (White Mountain Apache), Octavius Seowtewa (Zuni), Bennett Wakayuta (Hualapai), and Delores Wilson-Aguirre (Navajo). Hopi artist Ed Kabotie contributed two original drawings to the digital collection.
From pilgrimages down the Hopi Salt Trail to medicinal plants growing along the banks, their stories trace cultural values of the river as it flows 330 miles across ancestral lands to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
The collection is available at:
“The Little Colorado River is diverse in its identities, cultures, languages and traditions. It’s important that we explain ourselves, that we tell our story right, the way it was told to us by our ancestors,” said Sarana Riggs, Grand Canyon manager at the Grand Canyon Trust. “What you hear in Lifeways of the Little Colorado River are the voices of our ancestors.”
Amid recent dam proposals, a proposed gondola tramway and other development schemes from non-tribal interests, “Lifeways of the Little Colorado River” amplifies perspectives, experiences and cultural values of people who have known this waterway since time immemorial.
From its headwaters on ancestral White Mountain Apache lands, almost half of the Little Colorado River flows through Navajo Nation lands, and many more tribes maintain cultural connections to the river. This story collection, which comes directly from the hearts, minds, and lives of Native peoples, works toward supporting growing awareness to better recognize and respect tribal sovereignty.
“From many years of going there [to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers], saying our prayers, you cannot dig those out and erase them. That’s our pathway to our lives, our church. And other tribes, they have connections to the area too,” said Delores Wilson-Aguirre, a Diné (Navajo) community organizer and contributor to the Lifeways project.
“Especially with COVID-19 and the toxic legacy of uranium mining on reservation lands, we are losing our elders. It’s more important now than ever that their knowledge lives on through our oral traditions,” Riggs said. “Through these stories, we’re educating our communities, our families, and our neighbors.”
Lifeways of the Little Colorado River is the Grand Canyon Trust’s second story collection to feature Native voices, following the “The Voices of Grand Canyon” published in 2020. Diné filmmaker Deidra Peaches did the videography and photography for both projects. She is a graduate of the Change Labs business incubator, which supports Native entrepreneurs.
“Filming Lifeways of the Little Colorado River has allowed me to connect to the stories of the river as told by local tribal and community members. I am forever grateful for this experience and the stories shared that continue to exhibit resilience in our culture and people,” Peaches said.
Information provided by Grand Canyon Trust