Grand Canyon hiking stop’s ‘offensive’ name changed to honor Native tribe who were forcibly removed

In a unanimous decision, the US Board of Geographic Names voted to change the “offensive” name of a popular hiking stop in the Grand Canyon. The location, formerly called Indian Gardens, was renamed to honor the Aboriginal tribe that was forcibly removed from the area nearly 100 years ago.

Members of the Havasupai tribe had passed a resolution earlier this year formally requesting the change from the National Park Service. The spot, located along the Bright Angel Trail near Flagstaff, Arizona, will now be called Havasupai Gardens in connection with the tribe, which has a reservation nearby.

The NPS said in a press release that the gardens were originally called Ha’a Gyoh before the agency created policies that forced tribal members off the land. The tribe claims to have an established reservation since 1880. But in this particular area, members have been forcibly removed, with the last member of the Havasupai tribe being removed in the late 1920s, the NPS said.

The tribe has remained near this location ever since, and today has a reservation just west of the gardens and south of the Colorado River.

Havasupai means “people of the blue-green waters”, according to NPS, a definition clearly visible to the thousands of visitors to the reserve each year. Their land is home to several waterfalls including Little Navajo Falls, Fifty Foot Falls, Havasu Falls and many more, each providing an oasis in the middle of the canyon.

Currently, the reservation is closed to tourists.

Havasupai President Thomas Siyuja, Sr., said in the NPS statement that the tribe’s forced removal from its land, along with the government giving the area the “offensive name” of Indian Garden, “has had detrimental and lasting effects on the Havasupai families who lived there and their descendants.

“Every year, about 100,000 people visit the area on a Bright Angel Trail hike, largely unaware of this history,” Siyuja said. “The renaming of this sacred place to Havasupai Gardens will finally right that wrong.”

The last Havasupai resident to be kicked out of the area was Captain Burro. According to Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, a member of the tribe and former council member, Burro walked up and down the canyon walls to the garden.

“This man and his family were evicted from Indian Garden, forced off the land they had farmed for generations so the national park could make it their own. Billy Burro’s daily trail has been transformed into what today is the furthest of Bright Angel Trail.”

The descendants of this man still fight today to protect the history and culture of their tribe, under the name of Tilousi.

“I’m glad to see that we will always remember and honor the true story of my family’s forced relocation due to the development of Grand Canyon National Park,” said Carletta Tilousi. “…I hope this historic action will help other tribes to take similar action and reclaim land by changing place names for historical and cultural preservation.”

Siyuja said tribal members “have always called the vast Grand Canyon and the plateau lands south of it our homeland.”

“The Creator made the Havasupai people guardians of the Grand Canyon, and that’s a role we take very seriously,” he said. “We are a small tribe. But our voices and our minds are big.”

NPS Superintendent Ed Keable said the agency was “proud” to have worked alongside the tribe to rename the area.

“The Havasupai people have actively occupied this area since time immemorial, before the land was designated as a national park and until the park forcibly removed them in 1926,” Keable said. “This name change is long overdue. It is a measure of respect for the undue hardship imposed by the park on the Havasupai people.”

The parks department is already working to update the area’s signage, as well as the website and other materials to reflect the new name. The agency and Tribe are also planning an official rededication ceremony for next spring.

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