John Dougherty’s article “Problems in Paradise” paints an unfair picture of the Havasupai people (HCN, 5/28/07). He and another writer, Annette McGivney in Backpacker magazine, make us sound like a lawless community, with gangs running amok. Supai Village is a community where all of us feel safer letting our children out of our sight to play or go to school than we would feel even in Flagstaff. This is a place where we and our visitors don’t have to worry about ourselves the way we would in Phoenix or Los Angeles.
One year ago, the terrible murder of Tomomi Hanamure took place on our reservation. It shocked and grieved us, and even more when we learned one of our people might have done it. Never once in more than 200 years of contact with non-Indians had any of us taken one of their lives, whatever the provocation. We were very proud of that fact.
We are a private people, and suddenly dozens of reporters were clamoring to see the “savages” and point cameras at us. They threatened to disturb the crime scene to the point that the FBI asked us to keep them out. None of us knew what to say or how to handle it. We were in shock. All we wanted was for people to leave us alone to come to terms with this horrible loss while the investigators did their job. We prayed for Tomomi Hanamure’s soul to send her home to her people.
We strive to make our lives the best that we can and to keep our home a place that we are proud to share with our visitors. Your readers need to understand that we would not want to live in an unsafe place. Maybe people think because we are Havasupai and we live on the bottom of a canyon that we are different. We are not. We love our families and our children the same as you, and we feel blessed to live where we do.
Terrible acts take place every day in the cities of the world. Here it happens one time and reporters are still coming after us a year later, trying to make us look as if we are all at fault. What are they after? Do they crave recognition whatever the cost to us? When do we say our own people can no longer swim at the falls, even on our own land, because reporters like Dougherty and McGivney make people afraid of us?
Anything that happens in the country and the world affects us. If the president should decide to divert money and manpower to the borders or to Iraq, it affects how many police we can have or whether we get better health care or support for our school. When American youth begin making and using amphetamines, before long they arrive here. When American television shows hour after hour of violence, it appears on our screens, too. Influences like this do not fit our culture and hurt our young people. These issues face many communities, including yours. We are well aware of them, and we have been working to deal with them. Last year, we approached the Bureau of Indian Affairs for more law enforcement officers, but met delays and excuses. While we are still hoping they will honor their obligations to help us keep our community a good place, we are also looking at whether we need to operate our own law enforcement program.
Law enforcement, however, only makes a partial solution for our young people in trouble. Even if they are a small number, we care about them. Substance abuse counseling, mental health services and conflict resolution all offer ways to recover these young people. Our school needs to reinforce our values. We are not a wealthy community, so it is not easy to put everything we want in place, but we are making every effort.
We feel blessed to be born Havasupai and see a bright future for our people. Visitors have always come to us for who we are. We welcome them, proud to share our canyon home with the world.
Havasupai Tribal Council
Edmond Tilousi, Bernadine Jones, Colleen Kaska, Carletta Tilousi, Joe Watahomigie, Leandra Wescogame