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For the last nearly 1,000 years, the inhabitants of the canyon have been Havasupai. This ancient tribe is now sharing its unique and ancient origins, history, art and culture with the general public.

They are saying "Miiyuuja" in the Havasupai language, which is "Welcome" in their second language, English.

The telling of the tale of their ancestors begins today in a public reception at the Museum of Northern Arizona, as the Havasupai people bring their tale to Flagstaff in "I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People," a photographic exhibit that will be on display at the museum through April 26 (see box).

"This not only educates the non-Indians," said tribal member Carletta Tilousi. "It also educates us as tribal members, to be proud of who we are and to be proud of our ancestors. Because of them, we still exist to today."

The tribe has about 600 members today, with only about 50 living away from the tribal base in the village of Supai, Tilousi said.

"We are very pleased that the exhibit is going to document the story of Havasupai and the culture and we are eager to promote some of the things that are happening in our village to people around the world," she added.

A STUNNING HOMELAND

The exhibit is owned by the tribe and was developed by the Grand Canyon Association, with the guidance and blessings of the Havasupai people.

Tilousi was an elected official at the time the tribe signed the paperwork to make the exhibit collaboration possible.

Included in this wide-ranging show are historic and contemporary photographs of the stunning homeland of the Havasupai people — some never before shown — and examples of their music and language, one of the oldest and most actively-used indigenous languages of North America.

The exhibit is based on the 2006 book of the same name by author Stephen Hirst and principal photographer Lois Hirst. The Flagstaff couple's book and the exhibit are the outcome of their 40-year relationship with the Havasupai people and the 11 years they lived in their midst as educators.

The exhibit made its debut in the summer of 2007 at the Kolb Studio at the Grand Canyon. It proved so popular, it was eventually picked up by MNA, Tilousi said.

MNA Director Robert Breunig said he is very excited to provide another venue for the exhibit.

"The Havasupai people call themselves Havsuw 'Baaja, or people of the blue green water," Breunig said. "Their land is known worldwide for the beauty of Havasu Canyon and the dramatic blue green waterfalls of Havasu Creek. But, the world may not know as much about the Havasupai people's efforts to preserve their land, and their determination to preserve their ancient cultural heritage and language. I am very excited that this exhibit and the Hirsts' book give the Havasupai people a new way to share this information."

PRESENTERS AT OPENING

Tilousi she will be at the exhibit's opening reception as one of the presenters and will help present gifts of appreciation.

"We will present gifts to folks who have put a lot of effort into it," she said.

The Hirsts will be at the reception to talk about their experiences with the Havasupai and the recent flooding of the village of Supai.

Tilousi said she lived in Supai for four years before moving to Carefree when the floods made her home at the village uninhabitable.

"We are very pleased that the exhibit is going to document the story of Havasupai and the culture and we are eager to promote some of the things that are happening in our village to people around the world," Tilousi said. "We are the Grand Canyon, even though it has been a rough time for us in terms of the floods and the economy, we will make it through this.. We've been here for years, through high tides and low tides."

At the reception, Terry and Lyntha Eiler will also present photos and share stories about the years they lived with the Havasupai.

They lived and worked in the Southwest for many years, documenting the lives of Native peoples for such prestigious publications as National Geographic.

Living at Havasupai in the 1970s, they provided the photographs for Stephen Hirst's "Life in a Narrow Place," which documents the lives of 400 Havasupai in the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Association and the Museum of Northern Arizona are co-sponsors of the exhibit reception, with Grand Canyon National Park and the Flagstaff Photography Center.

Betsey Bruner can be reached at bbruner@azdailysun.com or 556-2255.

IF YOU GO

WHAT:

"I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People," a photographic exhibit about the Havasupai people of the Grand Canyon

WHEN: Free opening reception today, from 2 to 4 p.m., in the Branigar/Chase Discover Center. The exhibit will be up through April 26. Museum hours: Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WHERE: Museum of Northern Arizona, 3101 N. Fort Valley RoadADMISSION: $7 adults, $6 seniors (65+), $5 students, $4 Native people, $4 children (7-17)

INFO: For more information, call the museum at 774-5213, or visit the Web site at www.musnaz.org.

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