The recent death of President Gerald Ford brings to mind his role in restoring historic tribal land to the Havasupai Indians after a decades-old legal struggle with the federal government.
The Havasupai had inhabited the exquisite side canyons and forested highlands of Grand Canyon for centuries before the first wave of white pioneers and explorers arrived. Interactions between the tribe and these newcomers were largely peaceful.
A reservation was established in 1880 by President Rutherford Hayes, and adjusted two years later by President Chester Arthur. Their combined proclamations left the tribe with a scant 513 acres to call their own—a mere fraction of the Havasupai’s several million-acre traditional hunting and gathering grounds.
On January 3, 1975, President Ford signed a bill introduced by former Arizona congressmen John Rhodes and Sam Steiger that returned 185,000 acres to the tribe, largely at the expense of Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab National Forest.
Havasu Canyon, home to the village of Supai and the tribal headquarters, continues to draw thousands of visitors each year who come to enjoy the idyllic oasis and its famed towering waterfalls. Today, tourism generates over two million dollars annually to the tribal economy.