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Earth Notes: Grand Canyon To Become Park Service's First Inter-Tribal Cultural Heritage Site


The iconic Desert View Watchtower at Grand Canyon National Park will soon be the home of the Park Service’s first Inter-Tribal Cultural Heritage Site. The project is a collaboration between the Park, the Grand Canyon Conservancy, and 11 tribes with historical, cultural and spiritual links to the Canyon, including the Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai and Hualapai. For thousands of years, Indigenous people have lived on what are now Grand Canyon National Park lands.

Desert View Watchtower was built in the 1930’s, designed by renowned architect Mary Colter. She created it to echo the structures of Ancestral Puebloan people found at what is now Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Work by Indigenous artists, including Fred Kabotie, adorn the watchtower.

Plans for the new heritage site include a tribal welcome center and expanded cultural demonstrations, including silversmithing and pottery making. The Tribes involved with the project say it’s an opportunity to share not only their rich histories with millions of annual visitors to the Park, but also a chance to showcase their evolving and complex cultures. The Park Service believes the site will promote and acknowledge the diverse tribal cultures connected to the Grand Canyon, incorporating vital First-voices and perspectives into park interpretive programs.

There are a number of groups funding the project, including the National Park Foundation, American Express and the Arizona Lottery, which recently donated $100,000 to the project. And though the Desert View Watchtower is currently closed to visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, work on the heritage site continues. Eventually, the area will re-open to the public, highlighting the history of the Grand Canyon, not just as a cherished national park, but as a home to many.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.