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Lesson taught by tribe's hospitality

Jason Evans

We recently took a family trip to the Havasupai Reservation, located in the Grand Canyon. We drove five hours from Phoenix after attending my brother-in-law's college graduation, where Kalla Peacock earned his bachelor of arts in education from Arizona State University.

To make the trip for Kalla's graduation a vacation, we drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas, with a three-day camping and hiking stop at the Havasupai Reservation. The tribe offered us Alaska Natives discounts on services. Which made me wonder why we don't do the same for American Indians when they travel to Alaska?

First, let me tell you about our experience on the Havasupai Reservation. In all, there were 15 of us from Alaska who went to spend three days hiking and camping at the reservation. In addition to me and my wife, we also had in tow our 10-month-old daughter, Naya, and our 2-year-old, Sila, as well as their grandparents and everyone in between. 

Rich in history, the Havasupai Tribe lives in a village known as Supai in the Grand Canyon. The village, which has about 210 residents, has been the home for the Havasupai tribe for hundreds of years.

To say that Supai is remote would be a gross understatement. It is very, very remote. Even more remote than most of the rural villages in Alaska, not including Little Diomede or those small islands in the Aleutians. Supai is only accessible by foot, a pack animal such as a horse or mule, or by helicopter in addition to a five hour drive from Phoenix or Las Vegas.

Supai is considered the most remote community in the Lower 48. It is so remote that even the U.S. Postal Service has to carry mail into the village by mule.

So, as you can see, getting to Supai was an adventure in itself. The hike into the village takes about six hours with a group like ours, although some groups have completed the trek in three hours or less. It was bright and sunny, easily in the 80s and 90s for most of the hike. The hike out takes an hour or so longer. as you are climbing out of the canyon.

The hike in and around the village includes many large blue and green waterfalls. There seemed to be one waterfall after another more spectacular than the last one.

The Havasupai are willing to offer other American Indian's or Alaska Native people who want to visit their land and enjoy its raw natural beauty either free or discounted services. They feel their reservation should be shared with other Native people.

The cost to access the Havasupai Reservation is $35 per person, and an additional $17 per day to camp. But for those who hold a BIA tribal card, they allow you to access their land and camp for free.

I'll be honest, the trek out wasn't nearly as bad as I had dreamed. Maybe that was because I was part of the group that elected to take a helicopter out with my 2-year-old daughter. Normally, the cost to use the helicopter to ferry one's self out costs $85 per person. But, again, with a BIA tribal card, the cost was only $35 per person. It is only $25 for locals.

That got me to thinking we should do the same in Alaska. We should waive the fee at places like the Alaska Native Heritage Center for other American Indians and provide other discounts on services that are provided by Alaska Native corporations, just as the Havasupai provided us on our trip.

What better way to extend a hand to travelers who are a long way from home and who maybe our distant relatives and fellow Native people.

I, for one, was very appreciative of the discounts offered and the hospitality the tribe shared by allowing people to come through, hike and camp at their home.

Jason Evans is the publisher of The Arctic Sounder and The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.