Overcoming A 'Long, Bitter Relationship,' Grand Canyon And Tribes Mark Centennial When the Grand Canyon became a national park 100 years ago, native tribes who lived in the canyon were pushed aside. Now the park service is working with them to design a new cultural heritage site.
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Overcoming A 'Long, Bitter Relationship,' Grand Canyon And Tribes Mark Centennial

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Overcoming A 'Long, Bitter Relationship,' Grand Canyon And Tribes Mark Centennial

Overcoming A 'Long, Bitter Relationship,' Grand Canyon And Tribes Mark Centennial

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This Tuesday, the Grand Canyon hits a milestone - 100 years as a national park. To mark the occasion, the National Park Service is working with 11 Native American tribes to honor their connections to the iconic site. From member station KJZZ, Laurel Morales tells us more.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: Over the last century, this geologic wonder has inspired poets, painters, archaeologists and biologists. Most are lucky to visit even once. But long before it became a park, the Grand Canyon was the place many Native Americans called home. That's what Carletta Tilousi still calls it.

CARLETTA TILOUSI: Most Americans think Native Americans are gone, but we're still here.

MORALES: Tilousi is a Havasupai council member who grew up in the Grand Canyon. And she wants you to know something.

TILOUSI: That this was a home - is the home - of Native Americans. And our stories need to be told. I think Havasupai, we've been ignored for a long time.

MORALES: In the late 1800s, the federal government sequestered the Havasupai to a side canyon until 1975, when they were given back some of their ancestral land.

TILOUSI: The park forcefully removed my family, my great-aunts and my great-grandfather. And that really made me, personally, very angry as a child. It's been a really long, bitter relationship with the park.

MORALES: Today, the National Park Service is required to consult with tribes when making changes that might have an impact on them. Only in the last decade have tribal leaders been willing to sit down with park staff. In those meetings, they've asked the park for an opportunity to tell their stories. Three years ago, Grand Canyon officials invited tribal leaders to help them design a cultural heritage site. Jenn O'Neill is the park's partnerships and planning coordinator.

JENN O'NEILL: This whole project is propped up on trust that we will do what we say we will do.

MORALES: The park has also started preserving some existing cultural heritage in the canyon - for instance, the Desert View Watchtower on the southeastern rim. The 70-foot-tall stone building is modeled after an ancestral pueblo dwelling. And in the tower, O'Neill says, the park is restoring renowned Hopi artist Fred Kabotie's murals.

O'NEILL: And they have spent the last three years cleaning, with Q-tips and brushes (laughter), every square inch of the murals.

MORALES: O'Neill is hopeful once this project is up and running, the rest of the park will follow suit.

O'NEILL: We don't want to dispatch all things Native to the farthest corner of the park. We want to create a program that works and is sustainable. And then it will move into the larger park.

MORALES: This project is welcome, but there are still some key tensions between the park and tribes. For instance, the park currently only lets Native artists sell their artwork under strict regulations. They're limited to just selling crafts they've shown visitors how to create in cultural demonstrations. Mable Franklin, who is Navajo, says the next step is economic empowerment.

MABLE FRANKLIN: We would like to see our communities put their wares and generate revenue from that because in our community, we have a lot of people that are vendors. And that's their way of life, and that sustains them out here.

MORALES: Until that rule changes, Franklin hopes the 6 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon will consider taking a short side trip just 30 miles east of the park to the Navajo Nation. There, in the community of Cameron, artists can earn a living selling their work. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

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