Grand Canyon plan would upgrade tribal housing

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A Grand Canyon housing area for members of an American Indian tribe displaced by the national park is in desperate need of repair.

The five 300-square-foot cabins at Supai Camp have no plumbing or insulation, the floors are cracked, windows are broken and the electric work dates to the 1930s when the cabins were built. The National Park Service considers them unsafe, unhealthy and substandard.

A Park Service proposal would use more than $1.5 million – a mix of stimulus funding and money generated from entry fees – to upgrade the cabins and build six new units at the canyon’s South Rim for use by the Havasupai Tribe.

“They definitely need to be upgraded, to have more modern housing opportunities similar to what other park residents are able to live in,” said Rachel Stanton, project planning leader at the Grand Canyon.

The public has until Aug. 24 to comment on the environmental assessment for the Supai Camp project that also has a no action alternative.

The Havasupai reservation lies deep in a gorge about 40 miles west of the national park and is accessible only by mule, foot or helicopter. The housing area at the main South Rim park site provides the tribe with opportunities for medical care, schooling and employment that are limited on the small reservation.

The 650-member tribe historically moved from below the canyon to the rim in a seasonal living pattern, occupying shacks and traditional brush structures. During the fall and winter months, tribal members hunted and gathered food on higher ground. They returned to the bottom of the canyon to garden during the spring and summer months.

In the 1930s, the National Park Service relocated tribal members from Grand Canyon Village and Indian Garden – about 4 1/2 miles down a popular trail on the South Rim – to make way for trails and a ranger station. The Park Service built a handful of small cabins for the Havasupais so they could continue their living pattern.

Park Service plans for a tribal village with 36 total residential cabins, garages and a school never came to fruition.

The five cabins remain the only tribal housing available for Havasupai people outside the reservation, said Evangeline Kissoon, housing coordinator for the tribe.

With improvements to the housing area, Kissoon estimates 11 families will be able to move to the rim, nearly 200 miles by road from the reservation and closer to schools, employment opportunities and medical facilities.

The reservation has an elementary school, but high school children must leave the canyon to attend public school or BIA boarding schools.

Most tribal members on the reservation – known for its towering-blue waterfalls that attract tourists from all over the world – work in the tourism industry. And although the reservation has a medical clinic, physicians aren’t always available, Kissoon said.

Those living at Supai Camp share community laundry and restroom facilities. Under the Park Service proposal, each cabin would be fitted with plumbing and kitchens, and three 2-bedroom, 1-bath duplexes would be built. A new sewer line would connect Supai Camp to the park’s wastewater treatment plant.

“The units really need to be brought up to standard to avoid endangering the safety of the occupants there,” Kissoon said.

Construction could start in September and wrap up by next spring. Kissoon said there’s already a waiting list for the housing, but a main focus of the tribe is dialysis patients who often move to Kingman for treatment.

“It’s very, very difficult for them to live out there,” she said. “At least (they will be) within their own village and their own people in Supai Camp.”

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