Hualapai – Native Americans of the Southwest

Published on April 22, 2014 by Amy

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Hualapai Tribe Building Skywalk
Hualapai Tribe Building Skywalk

Hualapai or Walapai (Xawdlapdiya), “Pine Tree People,” were named after the pinon pine nut. With the Havasupai, they are called the Pai (Pa’a) Indians (“the People”: the Hualapai are the Western Pai, and the Havasupai are the Eastern Pai). They are also described, with the Havasupai and the Yavapai, as Upland Yumans, in contrast to the River Yumans, such as the Mojave and Quechan.

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Location Hualapai territory is located along the middle course of the Colorado River in present-day northwestern Arizona. Today, most Hualapai live near Peach Springs, Arizona, which is located near the Grand Canyon.

Population Roughly 1,100 prior to contact with non-natives, the 1993 Hualapai population was 1,872.

Language Hualapais spoke Upland Yuman, a member of the Hokan-Siouan language family.

Historical Information

History The Pai Indians, who traditionally considered themselves one people, probably descended from the prehistoric Patayans of the ancient Hakataya culture. Thirteen bands of Pai originally ranged in northwest Arizona along the Colorado River, hunting, farming, and gathering. By historic times, three subtribes had been organized: the Middle Mountain People, the Plateau People, and the Yavapai Fighters. Each subtribe was further divided into several bands, which in turn were divided into camps and families.

Although the Pai encountered non-natives in 1540, or perhaps as late as 1598, neither the Spanish nor the Mexicans developed Hualapai country, which remained fairly isolated until the 1820s. Around that time, a trail was blazed from the Rio Grande to California that led directly through Pai country. After the Mexican cession (1848), Hualapais began working in white-owned mines. With Anglo invasions and treaty violations increasing and the mines ever exploitative, the Hualapai, in 1865, met violence with violence. A warrior named Cherum forced a key U.S. retreat but later scouted for his old enemy. Later, the United States selected Hualapai Charley and Leve Leve as principal chiefs because they were amenable to making peace. The Hualapai war ended in 1869.

As the Eastern Pai played a minor role in the war, they were allowed to return home afterward; it was at this juncture that the two “tribes,” Hualapai and Havasupai, became increasingly separate. The army forced those Hualapai who failed to escape to march in 1874 to the Colorado River Reservation. There, the low altitude combined with disease and poor rations brought the Hualapai much suffering and death. When they filtered back home several years later, they found their land in non-native hands. Still, they applied for and received official permission to remain, and a reservation was established for them in 1883.

The reservation consisted of 1 million acres on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a fraction of their original land. Before long, overgrazing by non-Indians had ruined the native food supply, and ranchers and cattlemen were directly threatening the Indians with physical violence. A series of epidemics struck the Hualapai. Most Hualapai lived off the reservation, scrambling for wage work and sending their children to Anglo schools. As the Hualapai formed an underclass of cheap, unskilled labor, their way of life began to vanish. The railroad depot at Peach Springs became the primary Hualapai village. The railroad brought dislocation, disease, and some jobs. Their new condition strengthened their differences with the still-isolated Havasupai.

The Hualapai began herding cattle in 1914, although their herds were greatly outnumbered by those of non-natives. Extensive prejudice against the Indians diminished somewhat after World War I, out of respect for Indian war heroes. Through the middle twentieth century the Hualapai retained a strong sense of their culture, although economic progress was extremely slow.

Religion According to the Hualapai creation myth, a spirit prayed life into canes cut from along the Colorado River near Spirit Mountain, in present-day Nevada. An unseen world of gods and demons are in part responsible for the dreams that gave male and female shamans their power to cure. This they accomplished by singing, shaking gourds, and pretending to suck out disease with a tube and herbs. They also used their power to control the weather. If successful with a cure, shamans were paid in buckskins, but they might be killed if a patient died. In general, the Hualapai had few ceremonies or dances. They did accept the Ghost Dance in the 1890s.

Government Traditional political authority was decentralized. Headmen of both a camp (roughly 20 people) and a band (roughly 85-200 people) led by fostering consensus. They served as war chiefs and spokespeople when necessary. The position of headman was occasionally hereditary but more often based on personality and ability. There was little or no tribal identity until the early twentieth century, when the Hualapai created a fledgling tribal council. In the 1930s they adopted a constitution and elected their first tribal president.

Customs The Hualapai cremated their dead and burned their homes and belongings as well. In the nineteenth century they adopted the Mojave mourning ceremony, in which aspects of warfare were staged to honor the dead. They observed no formal marriage ceremony. Divorce was frequent and easy to obtain.

Dwellings Dome-shaped brush wikiups as well as rock shelters served as the major dwelling. The people (men, by and large) also used sweat lodges for curing and as clubhouses.

Diet Occasionally the Hualapai grew the standard American crops (corn, beans, and squash) near springs and ditches. Corn was made into mush, soup, and bread; pumpkins were dried in long strips. In the main, however, they obtained their food by hunting and gathering, leaving their summer camps to follow the seasonal ripening of wild foods. The women gathered pinon nuts, cactus and yucca fruits, agave (mescal) hearts, mesquite beans, and other plants. The men hunted deer, antelope, mountain sheep, rabbits (in drives), and small game. Meat was dried and stored in skin bags. The Hualapai also ate fish.

Key Technology The Hualapai practiced a number of traditional irrigation techniques, such as ditch digging, crop location near water sources, and flood runoff (ak chin). They used flat pounding-grinding rocks and rotary mortars for grinding. Baskets as well as pottery were used for conveyance and storage.

Trade The Hualapai were part of an extensive system of exchange that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Pueblos. Shell decorations and horses came from the Mojave and the Quechan. Rich red ocher pigment was a key trade item, as were baskets and dried mescal and dressed skins. Meat and skins went for crops; lima beans for Hopi peaches.

Notable Arts Baskets and pottery, including pots, dishes, jars, and pipes, have been made for centuries.

Transportation The Hualapai obtained horses in the seventeenth century.

Dress Clothing was generally made from buckskin or juniper bark. Men wore shorts and breechcloths. Women wore skirts or aprons. Both wore moccasins or yucca sandals. Rabbit-skin robes and blankets were used in cold weather. In addition, the Hualapai painted their faces for decoration (women tattooed their chins), and both sexes wore shell necklaces.

War and Weapons Traditional enemies included the Mojave and the Yavapai; their main ally was the Havasupai. The Hualapai fought with mulberry bows, clubs, and hide shields.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Hualapai Reservation consists of almost 1 million acres near Peach Springs, Arizona. The tribe adopted a constitution and by-laws in 1938 and a corporate charter in 1943. A new constitution was ratified in 1970. The tribal council consists of nine elected members and one hereditary chief, although the Bureau of Indian Affairs must still approve all ordinances.

Economy The Hualapai Reservation is marked by very high unemployment (more than 80 percent). U.S. Interstate 40 bypasses the reservation, limiting opportunities for tourism. Important economic activities include forestry and raising cattle, along with some hunting and farming. The people sell some baskets to tourists, and they lease land for mining and lumbering. The tribe also controls hydroelectric, natural gas, oil, and uranium resources. Their hope for economic development based on a proposed Bridge Canyon dam was defeated in 1968 by the Central Arizona Project. The Hualapai plan to develop further what is now small-scale tourism, such as permits and guides, related to the Grand Canyon. Many Hualapai work for wages off the reservation.

Legal Status The Hualapai are a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Many Hualapai speak English, but many also retain their native tongue. Most Hualapai who live on the reservation live in individual, modern homes. The shift from extended family to nuclear family living contributed to cultural breakdown. One response to this situation has been the development by Peach Springs Elementary School of a nationally recognized model bilingual/bicultural program. With children grounded in their own culture, their self-esteem has risen, which has translated directly into higher graduation rates. A summer memorial powwow honors the dead, whose clothes are still burned, but now they are buried rather than cremated. There are four active Christian churches on the reservation.

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