The Havasupai are the most eastern of the fourteen Pai tribal subgroups. Pai, meaning "people," refers to the three major bands of upland Yumans, who speak different dialects of the same Hokan language. The Pai people traditionally lived in Northern Arizona, and inhabited land along the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon to the Bill Williams River. Each band numbered from 85 to 250 individuals, each considering themselves their own distinct group within the three major groups: Yavapai, Hualapai and Havasupai.
Havasupai is a Yuman word, given to them by their Pai brethren, the Hualapai. The Hopi knew them as Coconino, or "wood killers," referring to the way the Supai broke branches off trees with clubs for fire. Today the City of Flagstaff is a part of Coconino County, Az.
Way of Life
The Supai were nomads who farmed alongside perennial streams in the summer, and hunted and gathered in the winter. During the summer they built wickiups, brush and mud-covered shelters, at the bottom of Havasu Canyon. Here they irrigated crops of squash, corn, beans, calabashes, sunflower seeds, melons, peaches, and apricots. They also gathered wild native plants such as agave, grass seeds and pinon nuts. In the winter they moved up to the plateau and found shelter in wickiups and caves, where they subsisted on wild plants and hunted deer and small game, and on occasion, mountain sheep and black bear.
Chieftanship was hereditary, the people choosing which male family member of the chief was most suitable to succeed. The Havasupai was a patriarchal and polygamous society. The number of wives a man held was dependent upon his ability to support his extended families.
The Havasupai are also unique because of their close affiliation with the Hopi, with whom they were closer than their own Yuman kin. From the Pueblo People, the Havasupai acquired basket making skills and techniques for food preparation. The Supai primarily bartered baskets and deerskin, which they also used for dress.
The Supai believe in the same creation legends as the Yuma and Mohave Tribes. Many modern Supai have accepted Christianity but still abide by ancient traditions and prayers. They firmly believe in the sanctity of the land and their relationship with it.
In the late 1800's, cowboys and miners came to Havasu Canyon and began staking claims. Tensions escalated until 1866, when a three year war broke out between the Pai people and the US Army. The Havasupai did not fight, and thus were considered to be a seperate band.
In 1880, President Hayes decreed the Havasupai to 38,000 acres along Havasu Creek, which was repealed to 500 acres in 1882. Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919, and the Tribe was restricted to a reservation at the southwest corner of the park. 185,000 acres have since been returned to them, resulting from strenuous legal battles commencing in the early 1970's.
Today the tribe, which consists of over 600 members, is governed by a democratically elected, seven member Tribal Council. The Supai boast one hundred percent fluency in their native language, and are one of the few tribes anywhere inhabiting their original homeland. Supaivillage, only accessible by mules, helicopter, or a 10 mile hike, has everything from a lodge to a K-12 school. Their main occupations are farming, and tourism related jobs in Supai Village, and the Havasu Falls area. These activities make the tribe totally self sufficient.