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Grand Canyon National Park celebrates decade milestone for tribal cultural demos program

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

This week’s return of the Grand Canyon National Park’s cultural demonstration program, which highlights artisans from the 11 culturally associated tribes for park visitors, marks a decade milestone since the program began in 2014.

Park goers may see weekly demonstrations of silversmithing, kachina carving, basket weaving and pottery making at the Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot tall watchtower overlooking the South Rim. Painted drawings appear on its stone walls all around this National Historic Landmark, built in 1932.

“Seeing the significance behind the murals, from the Hopi way of life … I think it's a powerful touch point that we can have in bridging that cultural understanding with the public,” said Jason Coochwytewa, a Hopi who sits on the Grand Canyon Conservancy board of directors.

He says these tribes were here first, and “the park came after, our people were there.”

“And unfortunately, as history reflects, were forcibly removed, and sometimes landmarks and names of places were changed,” Coochwytewa elaborated. “With the national park and the conservancy recognizing that it’s not just part of our history, but that we’re still on this land and we still exist today.”

His nonprofit partnered with the National Park Service to create a first-of-its-kind Inter-Tribal Cultural Heritage Site, setting up “a model” for other national parks to follow.

“That's really just the beginning,” added Coohwytewa, “the hub of the Grand Canyon for cultural voices.” 

This includes plans for long-term construction at this historic site, according to the National Park Service’s cultural demonstration program manager Dan Pawlak.

“It’s changing Desert View to become the cultural center of Grand Canyon National Park,” said Pawlak, “and whatever happens there will then spread to the rest of the park as well.” 

Melissa Panter is a park ranger at Desert View, who helps produce “ Grand Canyon Speaks,” a podcast series dedicated to interviewing these Native artists.

“We’re hoping on July 6th to celebrate the 10-year anniversary,” said Panter, with the Inter-Tribal Working Group. “They’re the ones who’ve really been working on a strategic plan and we align our work with their plans as well.”

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.