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Grand Canyon’s Desert View Watchtower to Become Native American Cultural Center


The historic Desert View Watchtower at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is transforming into a Native American heritage center. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the multimillion dollar center is designed to present the canyon from a tribal point of view.

Officials with the Park Service say the project marks one of the first opportunities for Native American tribes to directly present information to the public in a national park. Eleven tribes and bands with ancestral ties to the Grand Canyon will collaborate with the National Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as nonprofit organizations. 

Credit NPS
Looking up through the first and second parapets of the watchtower.

One of the organizers is Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. He says the center will show visitors the canyon’s tribal history.

“The Hopi people have been around the canyon for thousands of years and they are still a living culture, there’s still a deep relationship with the canyon. That’s what we want to tell the visitor.”

Credit NPS
Hopi dancers at the dedication of the watchtower in 1933. Lead Hopi dancer Chester Dennis is at far right.

The Desert View Watchtower was designed by architect Mary Colter in 1930s. It was built to mimic ancient Native American structures and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Credit NPS
A Hopi mural inside the watchtower circa 1933 with Mary Colter's notation drawn over.

The watchtower itself will not be changed, but the facilities around it will be converted to house Indian art exhibits and other cultural programs. The project is expected to take five years to complete and is being funded by a collective of organizations.

Credit NPS
Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, who painted the murals on the walls and ceiling of the Desert View Watchtower.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers 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.
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