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Vol. 30, No. 2

The Southern Paiute Connection to Grand Canyon’s North Rim

Grand Canyon is a very special place to Bulletts and his culture. Songs are sung about it, ceremonies feature stories about it, and locations within the canyon have spiritual and cultural significance.

North Rim Sunrise on Angel's Window

“For me, the Grand Canyon is not only spiritual; you have to be in it and see it and go through it,” says Daniel Bulletts, Cultural Resource Director of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians.

Grand Canyon is a very special place to Bulletts and his culture. Songs are sung about it, ceremonies feature stories about it, and locations within the canyon have spiritual and cultural significance.

“Deer Creek is our gateway to the spirit world,” says Bulletts. “Our family will meet us to take us to the last place we’ll ever be.”

“Grand Canyon is a place of power and serenity for me, and a place to reconnect spiritually with my Southern Paiute heritage,” says Autumn Gillard, a first-generation descendant on her maternal side from the Cedar Band of Paiutes, from the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

The Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians and the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah are two of the ten member tribes that make up the Southern Paiutes. Although they have deep relationships with Grand Canyon, their reservations don’t border Grand Canyon National Park. But the Southern Paiute’s traditional lands include portions of Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

The Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians believe they are responsible for protecting the land, water, and everything that was historically theirs. And the entire Band of Paiutes is involved in conversation with the National Park Service to protect their ancestral homelands.

“All our important sites are on the canyon’s North Rim,” says Bulletts. “We have a large territory and work to manage it the best we can.”

That management includes working as advisors to the National Park Service and participating in monitoring trips that examine the impact of water flow and visitation on cultural sites.  

“We watch over the land and help it, as the land eventually helps us when we need it,” says Bulletts.

They monitor the private and guided trips that utilize the canyon and the river, watching to ensure visitors are not going off-trail. An annual report is produced by the Band with recommendations for the management of the land and is reviewed and discussed with the National Park Service.

Some of the oldest songs in the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians’ history are about the Grand Canyon.

“Many of our circle dance songs sing about going into the Grand Canyon before winter comes and then coming out of the canyon to see the snow or about looking down into the canyon and seeing the rock formations and the different colors,” says Bulletts. “No matter who we are or what we’re doing in our lives, as Southern Paiute, we are connected to this land and will always have a home in life and the afterlife.”

The Southern Paiute word “Tuvepiwon” is the root of the name of Tuweep on the North Rim. According to Bulletts, it is roughly translated as “where the world ends.” “Tuvepiwon is the end, but it’s the beginning of something good and something new to a person who comes here for the first time,” he says.

Gillard says visitors should consider not only the land when they visit but also the space above. “The stars hold a deep cultural significance to us. The night sky is a cultural resource to the tribes, and as an International Dark Sky Park, Grand Canyon is a place where you should look up to the skies and think about how you contribute to light pollution.”

Bulletts’ advice for visitors to the North Rim? “Give it the respect it deserves. When you see this canyon for the first time, it impacts you physically, mentally, and spiritually. The canyon is there to teach, heal, and do a number of things that we get disconnected from as modern people in our fast-paced lives.”

“When you visit Grand Canyon, remember that people have been here for eons,” adds Gillard. “We were the first stewards of this canyon, and we’ve loved it and recognized its power from the beginning. The National Park system focuses on preserving and protecting lands for all of us to enjoy. And that includes sacred cultural landscapes that Native American people hold ties to as ancestral homelands.”

Originally Published: 06-26-2023 Last Updated: 05-01-2024