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Grand Canyon oasis renamed 'Havasupai Gardens' to honor its original residents

Havasupai Gardens during peak fall colors.
K. Pitts
NPS Photo
Havasupai Gardens during peak fall colors.

An oasis halfway down the Grand Canyon on a popular hiking trail is now officially called “Havasupai Gardens.” The name was changed from “Indian Garden” last month at the request of the Havasupai Tribe. Havasupai lived and farmed in the area up until 1928, when the National Park Service forced them out. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with tribal member Carletta Tilousi about that history.

To start, can you tell me why is this name change important to you?

The name change is important to me because it tells about the story of the Havasupai and how we would roam all over the Grand Canyon for many centuries. This was an area that was once owned by many of our tribal members and we would live down in Havasupai Gardens to farm, and a lot of our sacred places and burial sites and farming still exists down in the canyon to this day. When Theodore Roosevelt came and made the Grand Canyon National Park, my family and my people were removed out of the canyon forcibly. We were never allowed to go back to that part of the canyon. Changing the name to Havasupai Gardens not only preserves the area but it also identifies the rightful owners of this place.

The issues we’re talking about here are huge issues with the displacement of Native people from the canyon. What do you want to happen next? What are the next steps for this process of honoring Indigenous presence in the canyon?

I believe the next steps should be that the true story of the Havasupai needs to be told, again. When visitors visit the Grand Canyon, the story of the Havasupai is not told. It needs to be told so that the true history is taught to the next generation. Especially the Americans—they need to understand that this area was once held in high regard by the Havasupai people along with other tribes in the region… Havasupai gardens was an area where my great-great-grandfather, along with other tribal members, lived. It was a place that provided water, and great farming, and it was just such a beautiful place that we were forced to leave. But a lot of our history and our stories still remain within each of us and we carry that to this day.

Do you envision a future where Havasupai Gardens could be returned to you for use? Could you ever farm there again?

I would like to envision the return of Havasupai Gardens back to my people and to my family. We would like to go back and farm there, we’d like to visit and reclaim our areas. Yes, absolutely.

Carletta, thank you so much for speaking with me today, I really appreciate your time.

Thank you, have a great day.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.