Despite the close relationship of the Kaibab Paiute people with the Grand Canyon, their reservation does not border Grand Canyon National Park. Instead it rests along the Arizona-Utah border in a high valley on the Arizona Strip, about 50 miles to the north of the park. It contains five tribal villages, as well as the non-Indian community of Moccasin and Pipe Springs National Monument.
The Kaibab Paiute tribe is part of the Southern Paiute Nation. The tribe is relatively small, with about 240 members. The Southern Paiute claim a vast swath of traditional lands, bounded on the south by about 600 miles of the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon and Colorado River lay within the sacred land of Puxant Tuvip, where the Southern Paiute people believe they were created.
The Kaibab Paiute were one in a long line of inhabitants of the Kaibab Plateau, moving into the region around 1250 A.D. according to archeologists.
The Paiute and others before them were attracted to this area by Pipe Spring, which provided them with reliable water. In the arid climate of the region, such water sources were necessary for plants, animals, and humans to live. However, in the 1860s Mormon settlers arrived in the area and quickly built forts and towns around the springs, diverting the waters for their use. With the spring water taken by these newcomers, Kaibab Paiute farms dried up, wildlife became scarce, and the tribe starved. To support themselves, many took jobs with local ranches or mining operations.
The Kaibab Paiute Reservation was created by executive order in 1913 and expanded in 1917. It covers less than 200 square miles, a small portion of their historic territory. The wide diversity in elevation across the reservation means that the climate ranges from semi-arid to alpine. The Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians was formed under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
They organized a tribal government in the 1950s, and in 1970 the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided them with a building to use as their tribal headquarters directly across from Pipe Spring National Monument. The tribe gradually persuaded the NPS to allow them to build interpretive trails and develop programs that would allow their historical and cultural perspective to balance the monument’s previous focus on Mormon history.
The tribe owns and operates most businesses on the reservation. They manage a communal tree orchard, and many families are involved in the livestock industry. The tribe has its own Fisheries and Parks Department to manage hunting and fishing on the reservation. However, the primary income for the reservation comes from tourism to their scenic homeland, especially since Arizona Highway 389, the main route between Las Vegas and Lake Powell, crosses the reservation. The tribe and NPS jointly built and operate the visitor center and museum at Pipe Springs National Monument, and the tribe owns an RV and camping site nearby.
The Southern Paiute believe that they have a special responsibility to protect and manage the land, water, and everything on or in it that was historically theirs. But not until the 1970s did the NPS first approach the Kaibab Paiute Tribal Council to offer them the opportunity to use their traditional resources on the north rim of the Canyon. Completed in 1959, the Glen Canyon Dam was built on traditional Southern Paiute lands, affecting natural and cultural resources in the area. In 1991, three Southern Paiute tribes, including the Kaibab Paiute, agreed to participate in a cultural resource study looking at the impact of the dam. Today the tribe is an active participant in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, sharing Southern Paiute perspectives on operations of the dam with decision makers.
For more information about the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, visit their website at www.kaibabpaiute-nsn.gov
Written By Sarah Bohl Gerke
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- Stoffle, Richard W. and Michael J. Evans. Kaibab Paiute History: The Early Years. Kaibab Paiute Tribe, 197
- Stoffle, Richard W., David B. Halmo, and Diane E. Austin. “Cultural Landscapes and Traditional Cultural Properties: A Southern Paiute View of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River” American Indian Quarterly 21:2 (Spring 1997): 229-249.